Hezbollah Engineering Helps Rebuild Lebanon

Jihad Construction, Hezbollah's engineering arm, was on the streets in Lebanon the day after the cease-fire with Israel went into effect. The company has dozens of paid engineers and thousands of volunteers. It worked out how many homes need to be rebuilt, who needs compensation, and it has begun repairing electricity and water lines.

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Hezbollah has already started the massive project of rebuilding Lebanon. The political party and militia group also has an engineering arm called Jihad Construction. Holy war is one interpretation of Jihad and after the war with Israel Jihad Construction has been on the streets of southern Beirut.

They've determined how many homes need to be rebuilt and they've begun repair work. Lebanon's government is lagging far behind.

Here's NPR's Jaime Tarabay in Beirut.

JAIME TARABAY reporting:

Dahia(ph) in southern Beirut is a dizzying hub of activity, coated in thick layers of dust. Bulldozers swivel around and dump piles of rubble into waiting trucks. Cranes sit in the middle of flattened-out buildings and pick out slabs of concrete that were once walls or floors of people's homes. On the edges, boys, as young as 14 are working, sweeping away shards of glass. Ahmed Youssef(ph) is among the volunteers.

Mr. AHMED YOUSSEF (Volunteer, Jihad Construction): (Through translator) I told them I wanted to help. I didn't come on my own; I came with my friends. We all came and asked if we could help.

TARABAY: There are thousands more like him, all working here under the supervision of Jihad Construction. Most of them are wearing white baseball caps with the Arabic name of the company printed on the front.

Over to one side, a space has been cleared out for a large canopy. Underneath, men sit on plastic chairs. There are stacks of papers with lists of names, floor plans and maps spread out on the table. There are also paintings propped up on easels for everyone to look at, anti-Jewish paintings, paintings of the destruction, of people weeping, of blood, and of death.

Ghassan Darwish(ph) is a spokesman for Hezbollah. He says Jihad Construction began the cleanup as soon as the August 14th ceasefire came into effect.

Mr. GHASSAN DARWISH (Spokesman, Hezbollah): (Through translator) We're nearly at the end of the first stage in the process of restoring the area. Forty percent of the rubble has been cleared. Everyone's been compensated. We've got about 100 committees of engineers drawing up maps to rebuild Dahia. Hopefully, in a year and a half, it will all be back as it was, God willing.

TARABAY: Jihad Construction is also bringing electricity wires and repairing damaged water pipes in the area. Everything that it's done and is doing is free of charge.

Jihad Construction has been around about 25 years. It operates as a normal company in normal times. It has qualified engineers on its payroll and carry out construction projects for Hezbollah in places like the south of Lebanon that are still being rebuilt in the year 2000, when Israel ended its 22-yearlong occupation in that region.

Because it's already established a network, it was easy for Jihad Construction to swing into action after the latest round of fighting. Again, Hezbollah spokesman, Ghassan Darwish.

MR. DARWISH: (Through translator) We have learned how to be organized. We've been around for a long time fighting Israel. So, of course, we will be organized.

TARABAY: But it's not just construction. In the southern parts of Lebanon, as well as in the Bekaa Valley, Jihad Construction teaches farmers how to farm organically. It has beekeeping training courses where, once you've passed, you're given all the tools for beekeeping and three hives to start off with. The company even teaches people how to grow wild mushrooms at home. It's broad range of projects show just how deeply embedded Hezbollah has become in Lebanese society.

Hezbollah won't say where the money comes from. The government of Iran is said to be its biggest supporter. On the day Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora announced a compensation package for displaced Lebanese, the mayor of Tehran visited Dahia and offered Hezbollah whatever help it needed. Darwish says Iran isn't the only country offering Hezbollah direct assistance.

Mr. DARWISH: (Through translator) There was also a representative from the government of Italy, and before that, someone from Yemen, and before that, Qatar. They come straight to Hezbollah because they have no confidence in the government.

TARABAY: Leah Shafour(ph) has been watching the workers clear the ruins in Dahia since the first day of the ceasefire. Whatever is left of the first-floor apartment she shares with the rest of her family is here, somewhere. She's thankful the boys, as she calls them, are here to help.

Ms. LEAH SHAFOUR (Resident, Dahia): (Through translator) The boys - God bless them - the boys of Hezbollah are helping us. They've been working really quickly. God protect them.

TARABAY: Jaime Tarabay, NPR News, Beirut.

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