Hezbollah takes lead in rebuilding south Lebanon

Standing in his grimy and smoke-stained welding shop, Ahmed Jumaa is eager to help rebuild Bint Jbeil, the south Lebanon town devastated by heavy fighting during Israel’s 34-day war on Hezbollah.

Already he has made a start, and Jumaa says it is the very Shi’ite group that sparked the war by capturing two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid that is now helping get him back into business.

“Hezbollah turned up very quickly after the war,” said Jumaa. “They saw my wrecked truck, machinery and tools in need of replacing and my house in ruins.”

Jumaa (48) said Hezbollah gave him emergency aid of $7 300 (â,¬5 770), and proudly points out that he was the first to reopen his shop, three days after the August 14 ceasefire that ended the war.

Now living with his wife and five children in a single room away from downtown, which was virtually levelled by Israeli bombing, he said the money is helping him to pay the bills and begin to replace much-needed tools.

Bint Jbeil Mayor Ali Bazzi complained about the “divorce between the [Lebanese] government and the south,” long a stronghold of Hezbollah, which is not only a political party with its own militia but also a dispenser of social welfare.

He said it was the party’s Jihad al-Bina (Struggle for Reconstruction) organisation that took the lead in getting the area back on its feet, surveying the damage and paying out up to $13 000 for each house destroyed.

Afif Bazzi, a local engineer who is Jihad al-Bina’s local coordinator, spoke proudly of the organisation.

“Jihad al-Bina is part of the people,” he said. “It is the children of the families of the region.”

In contrast, the central government has for decades not had a serious presence in the south, which was dominated successively by Palestinian militias, occupying Israeli troops and then Hezbollah.

It is trying to contribute to the solution, working through the Council of the South, an organisation controlled by Amal, Lebanon’s other Shi’ite party.

But a surveyor working with the council spoke of official shortcomings.

“Hezbollah intervenes quickly; it pays straightaway. It is much faster and less bureaucratic,” he said.

Ahmed Jumaa was able to get back to work quickly because he owned a portable generator, common in a country that suffers from regular power outages. He is still waiting for electricity and water services to be reconnected, as they already have been on the outskirts of town which were less damaged by the war.

That work, Mayor Bazzi said, would not have been possible without the help of Hezbollah.

Energy Minister Mohammed Fneish “is from Hezbollah, which is why he is helping us,” said Bazzi, explaining that part of the work is paid for by the ministry. Shi’ite Iran, which is the principal backer of Hezbollah, has also donated generators.

But so much remains to be done, the mayor added, saying that only 2 700 of Bint Jbeil’s 50 000 residents had returned since the war ended. Most desperately needed are housing and prefabricated schools, he said, so the city can begin to return to a semblance of normality. - AFP

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