U.S. Foreign Assistance Director Outlines Aid to Lebanon

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance Randall Tobias elaborated August 31 on the U.S. commitment of $230 million in emergency reconstruction assistance to Lebanon. He identified six specific areas on which the United States initially would focus its resources in support of the Lebanese government’s recovery plan.

“Today, we reiterate the United States' commitment to reinforcing democracy by supporting the Lebanese government's efforts to meet the needs of its people through early recovery and reconstruction,” Tobias told delegates at a donors’ conference on relief for Lebanon held in Stockholm, Sweden.

The six projects the United States will fund include:

• Reconstructing the Fidar Bridge in Jbeil, a key link in Lebanon’s coastal highway between Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli;

• Removing debris from the southern road between Marjeyoun and Nabatyeh; 

• Procuring materials and hiring local workers to repair damaged homes;

• Cleaning and repairing schools in preparation for the coming school year;

• Providing new nets, hooks and other trade material to fishermen whose equipment was damaged; and

• Supporting local fishermen working to clean up the oil slick that now pollutes 90 miles of the Lebanese coastline.

In addition, the United States donated 300 metric tons of lentils and 700 metric tons of wheat to the World Food Program to support its efforts to assist some 350,000 people affected by the monthlong war between Israel and Hezbollah.  Those donations were shipped from stockpiles in Dubai and Jordan August 30 and August 31.

The United States also announced that it would help fund efforts to neutralize and remove unexploded ordnance that remains from the Israeli bombing campaign and the subsequent ground combat.

Some 60 countries and aid agencies have gathered in the Swedish capital to discuss reconstruction assistance for Lebanon.  Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora told the delegates that Israel’s assault wiped out 15 years of development his country has achieved since the end of its civil war.  The Lebanese government has estimated its initial reconstruction needs at $540 million, though it says the full cost of the war, including structural and long-term economic damage, is in the billions of dollars.

The government said its initial recovery priorities are to find housing for displaced families, rebuild the damaged infrastructure, improve social services, clean up the oil spill along the coast and clear unexploded ordnance.

Israel launched an assault on Lebanon July 12 in response to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Lebanese Hezbollah militants.  Israel targeted Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley and the southern suburbs of Beirut.  Israel also attacked much of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, including roads, bridges, power plants, port facilities and Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport.

An Israeli attack on a coastal power plant released an estimated 17.4 million liters of fuel oil into the Mediterranean Sea, creating an oil slick along 145 kilometers of the Lebanese coast.

During the conflict, Hezbollah militants fired thousands of relatively inaccurate Katyusha rockets into northern Israel, some of them falling as far south as the Israeli city of Haifa.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 ended the hostilities August 14.  Tensions remain high, however, as Israeli troops continue to occupy parts of southern Lebanon and as Israel maintains an air and sea blockade on the country. 

Israel has said it would withdraw all its forces and lift the blockade when all the terms of Resolution 1701 are met.  These terms include deployment of a 15,000-troop international peacekeeping force alongside 15,000 Lebanese troops in Hezbollah’s traditional stronghold in the south and the interdiction of arms shipments to Hezbollah. The resolution also emphasizes “the need to address urgently the causes that have given rise to the current crisis, including by the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers.”

Tobias said all humanitarian relief and reconstruction aid must be aimed at supporting the underlying goals of Resolution 1701: “changing the unstable status quo that precipitated the conflict, strengthening Lebanon's sovereign, democratic government, and ensuring lasting peace and security for the entire region.”

“A democratic, secure, and prosperous Lebanon is in the best interest of the entire global community,” he said.  “Indeed, it is our best defense against the recurrence of instability and war.”  He urged all the conference participants to work toward this end.

The full text of Tobias’ prepared remarks and a fact sheet outlining U.S. aid to Lebanon are available on the USAID Web site.

For additional information, see Lebanon Assistance.