Sat, Aug 19, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Israeli towns wait for compensation

AP , KIRYAT SHEMONA, ISRAEL

Morris Maaman stands in his damaged home as he points out to relatives where a Katyusha rocket fired by Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon hit his house in Kiryat Shemona, Israel. He and family members returned home when the UN ceasefire took effect.

PHOTO: EPA

With the war over, the bickering has begun over compensation for the damage caused by the thousands of Hezbollah rockets that slammed into northern Israel.

Government inspectors and tax workers set up shop in a community center in the border town of Kiryat Shemona, probably the hardest-hit town. They expected to address close to 5,000 claims after the Israeli government promised to pay for all damages caused by Hezbollah's rockets.

But it could take months, they said on Thursday, and the going wasn't easy.

In the makeshift claims center, residents newly returned from a month in underground bunkers or from trips to the south, out of harm's way, muttered to themselves as they tried to navigate what would almost certainly prove to be a lengthy and exhausting bureaucratic process.

They first waited in the energy-sapping heat to receive a number. This allowed them to pass to the first floor, where they could grab forms. In the basement many of them pushed toward a waist-high swinging door in an effort to reach a manager, who they later learned wasn't there.

Somewhere in the middle were four police officers and a security guard, each strategically located so one had to walk around them to get anywhere. Everywhere there was yelling and frustration.

"By 10am, there's lots of shouting. You think it's like another war," said Lior Amar, 28

He'd spent four days trying to get his claim work done, Amar said.

His neighbor's house suffered a direct hit from a Katyusha rocket, and his got the spray, he said.

By Thursday, Amar had obtained a claim form from an independent inspector that said the damage to his house was worth 13,549 shekels (US$3,150), but he wasn't confident it would be approved by the government, which has brought around 20 of its own inspectors to Kiryat Shemona.

"It's very difficult for us," said Adi Zidman, a tax worker who helped oversee the claims operation here.

Zidman said the office in Kiryat Shemona was open from 8am to 10pm and sometimes past midnight as workers struggled to process the claims, but the workload was only getting heavier as more people returned home from their refuges across the country.

There is no fixed estimate of how much economic damage Hezbollah caused with its 3,970 rocket strikes on northern Israel, but local media put the figure at around US$3 billion in damages and lost revenue.

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