Hizbullah vows to help rebuild Lebanon

BEIRUT (AP) - Hundreds of people went from room to room at a makeshift registration center in a high school Wednesday, reporting damage to their homes from IAF bombing to Hizbullah agents. The officials promised to help them rebuild. Tens of thousands of people have returned to their shattered villages in eastern and southern Lebanon as well as Beirut's southern suburbs, or Dahiyeh, to find their homes either damaged from a month of fighting. Hours after a cease-fire went into effect Monday, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah appeared on television and promised to help Lebanese rebuild, pledging money for civilians to pay rent and buy furniture. Nasrallah did not say where the money would come from, but Iran historically has been the group's primary source of finance and weapons. The Iranians were widely believed to have opened their treasury for the rebuilding program. Hizbullah already has used charity work and social welfare programs financed by Iran to win wide support throughout Lebanon's Shi'ite community. Nasrallah said 15,000 housing units were hit during the war, and his group's bid to play a central role in reconstruction could further boost its standing after it declared victory over Israel. Salim Kenaan went into one of the rooms at the Haret Hreik Public High School and looked at signs on the wall. The one on the left read "Damaged" while that on the right read "Destroyed." He gave his name, address and telephone number to the man sitting under the sign on the right. "We will contact you soon," the Hizbullah member who took the information told Kenaan. "My house was totally destroyed. After I heard Sheikh Nasrallah's speech, I started looking for an apartment," Kenaan said. In the southern city of Tyre, Hizbullah's commander in south Lebanon, Nabil Kaouk, promised Wednesday to rebuild the war devastated region and compensate those whose homes had been destroyed. "We want to bring south Lebanon back to its real life and to rebuild it better than it was before the war," said the white-turbaned cleric as he stood in front of the demolished building that used to house his office before it was destroyed in the fighting. He said Hizbullah believed it would take a year for people to rebuild their homes. In the meantime, he said, the organization would pay rent for those who had lost their homes for one year while they rebuild. Hizbullah would hand out the assistance itself and not funnel it through the government, Kaouk said. Hizbullah is collecting such information throughout the country. The cost of rebuilding homes is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars. Hizbullah's social support network is a main reason for the loyalty it commands among Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslims. The Hizbullah official in charge of the center in Haret Hreik said he did not have an exact number of how many people had registered for help. The man said some 190 buildings were destroyed and about 90 heavily damaged in Beirut's southern suburbs. He said people whose homes were totally destroyed would get money for one year of rent as well as for new furniture. Those whose homes were damaged will either repair it themselves and then be compensated, or Hizbullah will send workers to do the job. Hundreds of workers were in the streets of Dahiyeh on Wednesday, clearing the roads and removing rubble. Some areas were closed by Hizbullah members for fear of looting, with residents allowed to enter with special passes. Ahmed al-Mileeji, a 67-year-old Palestinian who has lived in Haret Hreik since 1979, registered to get compensation for what used to be his house near Hizbullah's Al-Manar television station. "They will give me money to pay rent and to buy furniture. I will also get my flat back after one year," he said as he carried documents proving he owned the apartment. The Hizbullah official in charge said all destroyed buildings would be reconstructed exactly as they were. "We will use the same maps," he said. "We will give their flats back, but they will be new flats."