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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 July 2007, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Southern Lebanon's slow recovery
Martin Asser has returned to Lebanon, a year after covering the war between Hezbollah and Israel for the BBC News website. His series of articles examines how the country has fared since that conflict.

Muhammad Milhim,
Muhammad Milhim is still waiting for money from the government

In his third report, he examines reconstruction efforts in South Lebanon.

The BBC was the first media outlet to visit the village of Qabrikha after the Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon - Israel's response to Hezbollah militants seizing two of its soldiers exactly a year ago.

At the time there was a sense of despair and abandonment in the village, an agricultural community of several thousand where many of the old stone houses had been reduced to rubble.

Just south of the Litani river and about four miles (6.5km) west of Israel's northernmost tip, Qabrikha was not known as a strong Hezbollah area.

This meant that many inhabitants felt they would be safe from the bombardment and they stayed in their homes, but they were wrong.

MAP
For some reason, perhaps its strategic location or the presence of Hezbollah fighters nearby, parts of the village were heavily bombed.

At least 100 homes are having to be rebuilt from scratch and another 50 were partially destroyed.

There were at least two fatalities, but there were many near-misses as residents sheltered day-and-night in narrow underground bunkers.

Political squabbling

One year on and the stoical people of Qabrikha are slowly rebuilding their community, but work is months behind schedule.

Saudi Arabia has pledged to rebuild a number of villages in this area, including Qabrikha, but so far most of the owners of bombed homes have only received half of a promised $40,000.

Rubble
We want the government to take responsibility for this rebuilding. We are poor people. Why should we suffer because political parties are squabbling for power in Beirut
Muhammad Milhim
Qabrikha resident

"The Saudis have given the money, but it is sitting in banks in Beirut," says one resident.

"The government is meant to disburse the money, but they send engineers who say they need to check some detail, and then they leave and don't come back."

The common view here is that the Beirut government is withholding the money in an attempt to pressure Hezbollah to disarm, a central requirement of the UN ceasefire resolution.

Many families have erected the skeleton of their new home, but only managed to make the ground floor habitable before funds ran out.

Even to reach that stage, some householders have gone heavily into debt.

Muhammad Milhim, 77, looks on as workmen pour concrete for the foundations of a new cinder block house to replace his brother's old stone house that was completely destroyed.

It is costing the family $60 per square metre, money it hasn't got.

The government handout has already been spent on a partial refurbishment next door, and the family has now taken a loan $40,000.

"We want the government to take responsibility for this rebuilding. We are poor people. Why should we suffer because political parties are squabbling for power in Beirut," he says, referring to the political standoff between the western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition.

Dark tarmac

Across Lebanon, approximately 125,000 houses were destroyed by Israeli bombardment - much criticised at the time as disproportionate.

Of the one million people displaced in Lebanon, an estimated 200,000 have still not been able to return home.

Public infrastructure, on the other hand is much improved, with projects spearheaded and paid for by the government in Beirut, and in the south by Iran.

In only two or three places along Lebanon's main coastal highway - repeatedly bombed by Israel to disrupt traffic - does traffic have to make detours as bridges are repaired.

On approaches to the southern city of Tyre, sections of darker tarmac mark the locations of huge craters left by the 1,000-pound (500kg) bombs that Israel used to cut certain routes.

Newly planted banana groves indicate where Israel's missiles landed, and where Hezbollah fighters had fired wave after wave of unguided Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.

Visible presence

In the aftermath of all the destruction, the strength of the "resistance", as Hezbollah is known, seems to have changed little.

Tobacco
Hezbollah has helped families like the Qassims to rebuild their lives

The group's weapons are not on view in the south, but then they never really were before the war.

In Aita Shaab, within sight of where on 12 July 2006 a Hezbollah raid captured the Israeli two soldiers and killed another six, Ahmed Srour is rebuilding his home, with the help of four Syrian labourers.

"We need Hezbollah to protect us," he says. "Without Hezbollah and Qatar [which has pledged to fund reconstruction] there would be no-one left in this village."

A yellow Mercedes pulls up during the interview, and a fit-looking 40-year-old in a black T-shirt gets out and asks to check my papers.

"That's them now," says Ahmed when they drive off.

Next door members of the Qassim family are cheerfully helping harvest this year's crop of tobacco leaves.

They used handouts from Hezbollah (meant to pay for rent and furniture, provided by Iran) to refurbish four rooms on the ground floor, while they camped out at the property.

"Praise God, we have returned with our heads held high," says one of the teenage daughters as she skewers the thick, oily leaves on a long metal spike, before they are hung out to dry.


Read Martin Asser's first report:




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Life in southern Lebanon since the war with Israel





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