SRIFA, Lebanon – Jamal Farhat fled his town in southern Lebanon after an Israeli airstrike destroyed more than a dozen homes there, killing some 30 people.
Although his home was destroyed, along with his mother's and his sister's, Farhat drove back twice a week to bring food to Hezbollah fighters. He recently received $30,000 from the militant group for the leveled homes, he said.
"Hezbollah even gave me $5,000 for my grandmother because she's 101 years old and I take care of her," he said.
Yellow Hezbollah banners float over much of the debris in Srifa and across southern Lebanon, where residents are starting to dig out from Israel's 34-day bombardment.
The region — pockmarked with bomb craters and lined with pictures of slain Hezbollah fighters — now teems with engineers from the group's Jihad al-Bina, or "construction for the sake of the holy struggle."
The Israeli campaign flattened some 300 of Srifa's houses during the war. Another 800 homes — more than half the town — were seriously damaged, said town council governor Afif Najdeh.
Shortly after a U.N.-brokered cease-fire halted the fighting on Aug. 14, Hezbollah head Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vowed to rebuild every broken home in Lebanon within a year, and to financially support war victims.
Many Srifa residents say they are confident that Hezbollah engineers — who have visited each house and distributed $10,000 for each one destroyed — will rebuild their town within a year.
But not everyone is so sure.
"All the infrastructure is destroyed. It will take years, and millions, to rebuild," Najdeh said.
Srifa council member Hassan Ramadan said the rebuilding was mostly in the hands of Hezbollah and Amal, another Shiite Muslim group in an alliance with Hezbollah. Ramadan, an Amal member, said Hezbollah gave his party large sums of cash for its help rebuilding.
"The money comes in large piles of dollars from Beirut," said Ramadan. "It's meant to be a secret, but everybody knows Hezbollah receives it from Iran," he said.
He said Hezbollah's reconstruction efforts would build on its already strong support ahead of municipal elections in 2008.
Some Srifa residents were unswayed.
Abou Hassan said he hadn't supported Hezbollah or Amal and received no money for his damaged home or his mother's house, which was flattened.
"It's a mafia — if you don't support Hezbollah or Amal, you get nothing," he bellowed. "America and Iran are fighting their little war in Lebanon, and I don't get a dime for my broken house," he said, echoing a widely held opinion among Lebanese that their country was caught in a broader Mideast power play.
Mohammed Hussein, tasked with lifting slabs of concrete at one excavation site on the outskirts of Srifa, said the town council paid him $10 a day for the work.
"For me, it's good money," said the 19-year-old who'd made plans to go to university before the war broke out.
Najdeh, who described himself as apolitical, was elusive about where rebuilding funds were coming from. He said he couldn't raise local taxes because his constituents were too poor, and lost their largest asset when Israeli attacks destroyed tobacco fields that fuel the local economy.
He said the bulk of reconstruction was being handled by the central government, which hired a contractor to clear the rubble.
Ramadan's son Raed, whose damaged Internet cafe entitles him to compensation money, said he'd seen a heavily protected cash convoy arrive in Srifa two days earlier.
"A Hezbollah man with a big beard carried it in a large bag on his shoulder, like Santa Claus," he said.
Hezbollah chief spokesman Hussein Rahal declined to provide details on the group's reconstruction efforts.
"We don't have an exact budget for now. There are many steps and it will take a long while," he told The Associated Press by telephone from Beirut.