Lebanon Begins Post-War Recovery Effort
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
We're going to hear from Lebanon, now, where people are trying to recover from the 34-day conflict. Hezbollah handed out bundles of cash to people whose homes were wrecked.
NPR's Ivan Watson joins us now from Beirut and Ivan, many lives were lost and buildings were destroyed during the war. The reconstruction chief in Lebanon says the country suffered billions of dollars in damage. What can you tell us about Hezbollah's involvement in these early efforts to recover?
IVAN WATSON reporting:
Well, Robert, the Lebanese reconstruction chief says it was around $3.6 billion in direct economic damage to this economy here. Hezbollah has promised to provide housing and furniture to each of the people who lost homes in this war for a period of up to one year. The United Nations estimates that some 15,000 homes were destroyed by the Israeli bombing campaign just in south Beirut. That does not include southern Lebanon, where most of the fighting actually took place on the ground and where entire villages have been devastated.
Today, Hezbollah was handing out cash sums of $12,000 to some of the people who claimed that they had lost homes and actually their operation has been very, very impressive. They have had teams moving through south Beirut with maps color-coded according to how much damage each apartment building has suffered as a result of the Israeli bombardment and when to you talk to the Lebanese people who themselves were affected, many of them do believe that Hezbollah will follow through on its pledge.
That said, it will be a very daunting task to try to provide housing to I would estimate at least tens of thousands of people who are now homeless.
SIEGEL: Well, the conflict ended on Monday but there are wire service reports today that Israeli warplanes are flying over Lebanese territory today. What can you tell us about that?
WATSON: Robert, I can't confirm those reports yet but the reports are that there were flights over Bekaa Valley over in the east this evening. However the United Nations peacekeeping force that is stationed along the frontier, they report that there were at least two Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace yesterday morning and that has been a frequent complaint of the Lebanese government over the years, actually. They have often complained that Israeli planes fly into their airspace long before these hostilities erupted.
SIEGEL: Lebanese troops are moving deeper into the south in an effort to bolster the cease-fire but many of the Lebanese troops are themselves Shiite Muslims and many are Hezbollah supporters. It sounds like it would be quite a bit to expect them to actually disarm Hezbollah.
WATSON: Absolutely, I don't even think that's their mandate right now, and there have been government officials who have said the Lebanese army soldiers will not be going around hunting for Hezbollah rockets or Kalashnikovs(ph).
There seems to be a pact some back room deal written that says that Hezbollah will be able to continue operating much as it did before this war. Before the war you did not see Hezbollah weapons out on the streets and even during the war Robert, I counted only three Hezbollah rifles that I saw throughout this entire five week period of hostilities on the streets. And I was traveling through the conflict zone. They were very disciplined about hiding their weapons about keeping them out of sight, out of public.
In this case it seems that the army is coming down, much of this is a show, that the soldiers come in. It is historic their lining up along the Frontier for the first time, and this has been traditionally Hezbollah controlled territory.
The army soldiers are coming in convoys and waving flags. But they are not expected to be going around and grabbing up Hezbollah weapons, and in fact Hezbollah spokesman have said that the resistance as they call it, will remain in southern Lebanon much as it did before the war.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Ivan Watson in Beirut. Thank you very much Ivan.