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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 August 2006, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Surveying the damage in the south
By Martin Asser
BBC News, Nabatiyeh, south Lebanon

Muhammad Shams says he stands to lose at least $400,000 as a result of Israel's recent air bombardment, which was particularly intensive in south Lebanon.

Mr Sham's block of flats was destroyed, he says

One of his two blocks of flats in Nabatiyeh's western Hay al-Bayad district lies in complete ruin, the other building has had walls and windows blown away by the force of the blast next door.

"I have nothing to do with politics, nor any of the residents of my buildings," 75-year-old Mr Shams says.

"I spent nearly 50 years working in the Ivory Coast and I came back here to invest in my home town and enjoy my retirement here - now it's all gone."

He has arrived from Beirut after a ceasefire was called between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on Monday, bringing five weeks of destruction on both sides of the border to an end.

He wanted to survey the damage and check on his tenants in the six flats of the building that is still standing.

Returning home

One of the building's tenants, Mrs Abbas, came down from Beirut the minute the ceasefire came into force.

Like many other residents, she and her six children spent some of the war sheltering with friends outside Nabatiyeh, but they fled to the capital when the bombardment got too much for them.

Her husband, a local fishmonger, was at home when the missiles struck, though he escaped serious injury.

Many other homes have been damaged

Now the family sits amid the debris of their home with its piles of broken furniture and shattered glass. The Hezbollah flag that flew from their car on the journey down from Beirut stands in the corner of what used to be the sitting-room.

There is one bedroom which they have cleared of debris where they all sleep on mattresses, and the balcony, where Mrs Abbas offers us coffee, brewed next door because her own kitchen is in tatters.

"We have nowhere else to go. We imposed on our friends during the air raids, but we can't do that any longer," she says. "Our condition is better than some people who are just sleeping in the streets."

But the future still looks bleak with no money coming in: Mr Abbas's shop in Nabatiyeh's market was also damaged in the bombardment - not that there are any fish to sell at the moment from Lebanon's oil-polluted waters.

Struggle for the south

In his first public address after the ceasefire, Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah undertook to rebuild all the 30,000 homes thought to have been destroyed by Israeli bombs.

He also promised to pay a year's rent of those made homeless by the attacks and give every family $8,000 (4,250) to replace their furniture.

The money, Mr Nasrallah said, was a gift from "friendly states" (presumably Hezbollah's political and spiritual mentor and financial backer Iran) - but he did not name the benefactor nor how much the gift amounted to.

Nabatiyeh has been badly hit

Some analysts have interpreted this as Hezbollah's opening gambit in the struggle for the south, where the Lebanese government is hoping to take control in line with the ceasefire resolution agreed by the UN Security Council.

But the people you meet in Nabatiyeh have no interest in the government, nor the regular army troops arriving to man checkpoints around the town.

"They think they can protect us better than the resistance," snorts Mrs Abbas. "They are sitting ducks; the resistance is hiding behind every rock, every tree, ready to ambush the Israelis."

Corruption fear

Hezbollah's highly organised local committees have already started work on assessing the damage and registering recipients of aid.

Meanwhile, the government seems to have done nothing about dispersing the hundreds of millions of dollars donated by other Arab states.

Many houses bear the scars of battle

The fear among ordinary people is that much of the Arab funding will go straight in the pockets of corrupt officials, and there is little expectation of full disclosure about how it will be spent.

So far the Abbas family and Mr Shams have not seen the colour of Mr Nasrallah's money, but they are sanguine about Hezbollah's chances of making good on its promises.

"We have no reason to doubt their word," says Mr Shams. "They have rebuilt homes destroyed in the fighting before. I think I will get my buildings back as they were."

As we leave Nabatiyeh, some bombed overpasses along the main road to Sidon are quickly being cleared away by municipal diggers and bulldozers. But which party is the most influential group in councils throughout the south? That's right - Hezbollah.


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