Nearly one billion dollars for Lebanon; now for the Palestinians

The Stockholm Conference surpassed its target of 500 million dollars for the renewal of the Country of the Cedars. The most generous donors were the US, the European Union and the Gulf States. Another meeting is now to be held for the Gaza humanitarian crisis.

Stockholm (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A commitment to pump 940 million dollars into Lebanon's reconstruction emerged at the close of a conference held yesterday in Stockholm for some 60 delegations from donor countries. Jan Eliasson, Swedish Foreign Minister, said that including funds already sent, the total amount pledged so far for the Country of the Cedars comes to 1.2 billion dollars. He said the United States, the European Union and Gulf states have been the most generous donors. The meeting between representatives of Europe, Asia, the United States and the Middle-East met its objectives by a wide margin; the organisers had originally hoped to raise 500 million dollars for the rebuilding of Lebanon, destroyed by more than a month of war between Hezbollah and the Israeli army.

Eliasson, who coordinated the meeting, said the new funds pledged of 940 million dollars will be used for short-term as well as long-term reconstruction. Among the priorities mentioned: the construction of at least 10,000 shelters for people left homeless and the removal of unexploded bombs spread by Israel, including thousands of cluster bombs that threaten the return of displaced people. For long-term reconstruction, Lebanon expressed the hope that by the end of the year, another donor meeting would be held to allocate more resources.

In his intervention yesterday, the Lebanese premier, Fouad Siniora guaranteed that the funds would be administered directly by the government and would not fall into the hands of Hezbollah. The prime minister expressed satisfaction and gratitude, saying: "Today, we discovered that Lebanon is not alone." According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 300,000 people remain displaced in Lebanon. One million people were forced to flee their homes because of the conflict.

Also in Stockholm, another meeting will be held today to discuss aid for the Palestinian territories. Efforts are under way to meet a UN appeal target of at least 330 million dollars for Gaza, described by Jan Egeland, UN humanitarian affairs chief, as a "ticking time bomb".