STOCKHOLM,(Reuters) – International donors pledged more than $940 million for immediate relief efforts for war-torn Lebanon, nearly double the target, organisers of an aid conference in the Swedish capital said on Thursday.
“An amount exceeding $940 million was pledged at the Stockholm conference,” said a final chairman’s statement released after the meeting.
“This amount is in addition to previous pledges, making a total of over $1.2 billion available for recovery and reconstruction.” The statement said the larger figure included funds for short-term as well as long-term reconstruction.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told the conference the pledges “show that the Lebanese people are not alone”.
The closing statement also urged Israel to heed a call from United Nations Secretary-General Koffi Annan to lift its six-week-old sea and air blockade of Lebanon and urged that U.N. Resolution 1701 be fulfilled.
The Swedish government, the meeting’s host, had set a goal of $500 million in donor promises for Lebanon, which says a 34-day war between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas inflicted billions of dollars in damage to its infrastructure and economy.
“Lebanon, which only seven weeks ago was full of hope and promise, has been torn to shreds by destruction, displacement, dispossession, desolation and death,” Siniora told representatives of the more than 60 governments and organisations at the gathering.
The funds are aimed at Lebanon’s immediate relief needs, from shelter for those who lost their homes in Israel’s war with Hizbollah to the removal of unexploded bombs.
Lebanon hopes to hold a bigger conference later this year to raise money for longer-term reconstruction.
Stockholm will play host to a smaller gathering on Friday to discuss humanitarian needs in the Palestinian territories.
The Lebanon conference took place amid growing Western concern that cash handouts from Hizbollah to those whose homes were destroyed or damaged would entrench the guerrillas’ popularity.
Israel began bombarding Lebanon after Hizbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in a cross-border raid. Nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed during the war.
Siniora played down any involvement by Hizbollah in the rebuilding process using funds raised in Stockholm.
“The conference is being called to assist the Lebanese government, all will be channelled through the government,” he told a news conference. “This idea that it will be siphoned one way or another to Hizbollah is a fallacy.”
Lebanese officials said a priority for short-term relief was 10,000 prefabricated homes for some of the 1 million people displaced by the destruction.
Another goal was the removal of unexploded ordnance, including thousands of cluster bombs.
“What is particularly discouraging … is to see how many cluster bombs were used in the last 72 hours of the war,” U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland told Reuters Television.
“These are now unexploded small bombs that are waiting for the children who come back to their schools, to hospitals, to their homes and their villages. It should not be like that,” he said, calling for international assistance in their removal.
On Wednesday, Siniora said his government would pay $40,000 to each family made homeless to help them rebuild.
Lebanon plans to earmark $52 million for further work on clearing an oil slick that has spread along its coast since the bombing of the Jiyyeh power station last month.
According to U.N. and Lebanese estimates, Israeli strikes on the plant’s fuel storage tanks spilled 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the Mediterranean Sea.