Sat, Sep 02, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Pledges exceed expectations at Lebanon aid meeting

AGENCIES , STOCKHOLM

The US, Europe and the Gulf states pledged nearly US$1 billion to help Lebanon recover from a crippling war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas, doubling the amount sought by an international donors' conference.

Organizers hailed the bigger-than-expected contributions on Thursday as a show of strength for nations seeking to counter the influence of Hezbollah in rebuilding roads, homes and lives after the 34-day war.

But critics warned the amount was a moot point, saying it was impossible to sidestep Hezbollah when delivering aid to southern Lebanon.

"I don't think this will help Lebanon in the long term," said Middle East expert Magnus Norell of the Swedish Defense Research Agency. "There is only one actor in southern Lebanon that can handle aid, and that's Hezbollah."

World donors gathered for the conference in Stockholm pledged US$940 million in early reconstruction aid -- nearly twice the US$500 million target set by organizers. The money was earmarked for rebuilding infrastructure, clearing unexploded Israeli bombs and restoring social services.

In his opening speech, Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told delegates that 15 years of postwar development had been wiped out by "Israel's deadly military machine" in a matter of days.

The direct damage of the conflict was in the "billions of dollars," while the indirect cost including lost tourism and industry revenue would cost billions more, he said.

In related news, donors pledged US$500 million in further aid to the Palestinian Territories yesterday, of which $55 million will go directly to meeting a shortfall in UN funding.

"I would say this is a fantastic result," Swedish Aid Minister Carin Jamtin told delegates at the end of a conference arranged by Sweden, Norway and Spain to help meet a revised UN appeal for further funding of US$170 million for the Palestinians, on top of an original request for US$215 million.

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