Lebanon Asks Arab States for More Help

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora appealed to Arab countries Tuesday to increase and accelerate their donations to Lebanon to help it rebuild from what he called "a series of devastating Israeli invasions" in the past 30 years.

Addressing a meeting of Arab finance ministers, Saniora called for a quick infusion of Arab funds to enable Lebanon to recover from the 34-day Israeli offensive against Hezbollah in July and August, and the civil war of 1975-90.

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Saniora said the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas had inflicted a heavy loss of life and colossal damage to Lebanon's infrastructure.

"The Lebanese have paid a heavy price in lives and properties as a result of this devastating war. Also, nearly a quarter of Lebanon's population was displaced from their homes during the (Israeli) aggression. Direct and indirect economic losses reached billions of dollars," Saniora told the Arab League's Economic and Social Council.

Lebanon says it needs about $3.5 billion to repair buildings and infrastructure damaged in the Israeli offensive. But even before this year's destruction, Lebanon was saddled with a public debt of about $38 billion — most of which stemmed from the costs of reconstruction from the civil war.

Tuesday's meeting came a day after France agreed to hold an international donor conference for Lebanese reconstruction in January.

At a similar conference in Stockholm, Sweden, last month, donors pledged nearly US$1 billion to rebuild Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has promised $1.5 billion to Lebanon — $500 million for reconstruction and $1 billion to be deposited in Lebanon's central bank to support the economy. And Kuwait has pledged $300 million.

Saniora thanked Arab states for their donations, but said: "We want our (Arab) brothers to give renewed and concrete support — to cover all needs of the public and private sectors and to overcome an ordeal that has been going on for three decades."

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Tuesday's meeting was the starting point for Lebanon's reconstruction.

"Lebanon's stability and safety are an indivisible part of security and stability in the Arab world and the Middle East," Moussa told the conference.