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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 September 2006, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Lebanon breathes after the blockade
By Ian Pannell
BBC News, Lebanon

Lebanese fisherman in Sidon arrives back from his first trip to sea since the war with Israel
The end of the blockade means economic life can resume
Lebanon is coming back to life.

The air and sea blockade has been lifted and the country's ports are positively bustling.

Like those parts of Lebanon which survived the bombardment by Israel, it is back to business, though not quite "as usual".

The last time I was at Beirut port was during the conflict.

Then it was home to warships from many nations, as tens of thousands of foreign nationals fled the fighting. There were tears, angst and panic as huddled crowds waved farewell to Lebanon.

Counting the cost

Today it is freight ships and port staff that are hard at work. Giant cranes roll along the quayside, swinging huge containers through the air and onto the backs of waiting lorries.

Joseph Roukoz
The port is an essential nerve to the Lebanese economy because we are a country that imports many things
Joseph Roukoz
Port supervisor

"I am glad to come to work after two months at home, it was very difficult for people," said the port supervisor Joseph Roukoz.

Many workers received just half their normal salary during the blockade, others received nothing at all.

The Lebanese government says the country lost as much as $30m a day.

That figure includes lost revenue to import and export businesses as well as the exchequer.

"The port is an essential nerve to the Lebanese economy because we are a country that imports many things," said Mr Roukoz.

Add a ruined tourist season and the cost of reconstruction, and this will have been a bad year for an economy that was starting to grow.

Psychological relief

For ordinary Lebanese people the end of the blockade is also a huge relief.

The cost of petrol and bottled gas had practically doubled in some places. Some food products and medicines had become scarce.

A worker creates a V sign with his arms as a ship arrives in Beirut port
Loss of business and tourism, and the cost of rebuilding, hit hard

The biggest difference for many will be psychological. The bombs may have stopped falling on 14 August but the continuing blockade left many feeling as though the conflict was still going on, that the country was still being punished.

Israel says the blockade was necessary to keep illegal weapons out of the country and the hands of Hezbollah. Now they are prepared to hand over that responsibility to others.

Initially it will be French, Italian and Greek ships that will patrol the seas together with Lebanese forces. Later Germany will take the lead.

'We can't live'

But the lifting of the blockade is too late for some. The small harbour of Ouzai was bombed by Israel. When we arrived it was the charred remains of boats that were being hauled from the sea.

The fishermen say they do not know why the port was attacked, but Israel has insisted that it only hit legitimate targets. Either way there are now hundreds of men who are out of work here.

"We don't have anything to live. If we don't go to hunt and get fish we can't live.

"Our boats are destroyed. What can we do? We must work," said a local diver, Ali Muqdad.

Many are glad the blockade is coming to an end but it has left Lebanon with even more debt than it had before. And people like Ali Moqdad want to know who is going to compensate them.

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