August 18, 2006
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Concerned that Hizbollah has an early
advantage in rebuilding shattered south Lebanon, the Bush
administration is trying to speed up aid and encouraging Arab states
to step in quickly, U.S. officials said this week.
The White House is “cracking the whip” on rebuilding efforts so
Iranian-backed Hizbollah is not seen taking the lead and winning any
more support among the local population, said a senior State
“I’ve said we have got to get with this. These guys (Hizbollah) are
out there with their own bulldozers and what are we doing? It takes
forever for us to start up rebuilding projects,” said the senior
official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity
of the issue.
The United States came under heavy criticism from Arab countries and
some European governments during the monthlong war between
Israel and Hizbollah that halted with a U.N.-ordered truce this week.
Washington was criticized for refusing to back calls for an immediate
cease-fire, thereby appearing to give a green light to extensive
Israeli bombing in Lebanon.
The United States has pledged $50 million so far to humanitarian aid
in Lebanon, half of which has been handed out to aid groups working
in the conflict zone. But a senior U.S. official said it was unclear
how much Washington would contribute to rebuilding.
A donors conference on humanitarian aid is set for August 31 in
Stockholm and a later one may be held to deal directly with repairing
Lebanon’s shattered infrastructure. Bridges and roads took a pounding
in the conflict.
Any large-scale U.S.-funded rebuilding effort could take months, just
as it did in Iraq where the Bush administration’s efforts are
American officials worry that that Hizbollah and Iran will
take advantage of U.S. bureaucracy surrounding aid efforts and boost
their own credibility by getting in first.
“We have been delivering stuff from the beginning (of the conflict)
but we need to get something much more substantial on the ground,”
said the State Department official.
Hizbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed after Monday’s truce
that his guerrilla group would help fund repairs for about 15,000
bomb-damaged homes across Lebanon.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Hizbollah was using the same
tactics as the Palestinian militant group Hamas and al Qaeda in
getting on the ground quickly to rebuild.
“This is an emerging tactic, which is commit acts of terror, try to
get people to fight against each other, and set up a charitable
foundation to hand out cash and crumbs to the victims,” Snow told
A senior U.S. aid agency official Bill Garvelink said the near-term
focus would be on helping to rebuild people’s homes and that American
engineers were in the area assessing damage to bridges and roads.
The United States is pushing Arab states like Saudi Arabia to deliver
aid fast to southern Lebanon. Saudi Arabia has committed
half-a-billion dollars to humanitarian relief and promised another
billion for rebuilding.
Israel is nervous that Iranian funding will be used by Hizbollah and
is pushing for tight restrictions on such assistance, telling the
Bush administration to tighten up any loopholes.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland)