Lebanon News

Siniora vows to be last in making peace with Israel

BEIRUT: Lebanon will be the last Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Wednesday, vowing that he would not hold "direct or indirect contacts" with Israel or have his government resign. "Lebanon will be the last Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel after 300 million Arab citizens sign it. There will be no agreement with Israel before there is a global peace deal that is just and lasting," Siniora told reporters at the Grand Serail.

Addressing calls from opposition MPs for the government to resign, Siniora said that "as long as the Cabinet enjoys the Parliament's support democracy will continue and the Cabinet will not resign."

"Let these politicians rest. The government is staying, staying, staying," Siniora said in reference to Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and his ally, MP Michel Aoun.

Siniora had called a news conference to unveil the latest details of his national reconstruction and compensation plan.

The premier pledged to distribute some LL50 million ($33,000) in aid to each family whose home was completely destroyed during the recent Israeli offensive.

A government primary estimation shows that "130,000 houses across Lebanon have been demolished or damaged due to the aggression, of which 50,000 are in Beirut's southern suburbs," Siniora said.

The government was considering several solutions to the housing problem, with one possibility being providing those who lost their homes with prefabricated houses.

Siniora also explained that Saudi Arabia and several other countries have pledged to supply the temporary houses and that he would ask donor countries at an aid conference in Stockholm Thursday for additional help.

Once reconstruction efforts are completed, all temporary homes "will be returned to the countries that provided them," he added.

Siniora once more reiterated that his government "will bear its responsibility in helping the people," but urged his countrymen to "work together with the government to achieve the best results they hope for."

The government will handle the distribution of relief and compensation, as well as reconstruction and donations, "with full transparency," the premier said.

"An auditing firm will take care of the accounts and will oversee the distribution of the money," he added, in an effort to prevent theft and corruption in the distribution phase.

The premier also told reporters that several Arab countries had offered to rebuild entire villages that had been partially or completely destroyed during the recent conflict.

"Saudi Arabia has pledged to reconstruct 10 villages, Qatar one village, Yemen one village, Bahrain one village," Siniora said. "We will propose the idea of such help to the countries taking part in the Stockholm conference."

Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport will be repaired at no charge by the Consolidated Contractors Company, he added.

"The eastern runway, 21, has been completely fixed ... The western runway, 17, is currently under reconstruction and needs three days to be fully operational. The rest of the runways need a few days before they will be operational," Siniora said.

The government is also preparing official estimates of the damage throughout the country, which Siniora said would be ready soon, "but major sectors like transportation, energy, communications ... we haven't had the time to do overall estimations on everything."

"The Stockholm conference, which will be attended by 60 governments and organizations, isn't the [Beirut I] conference that we were preparing for before the Israeli aggression," Siniora said. "The conference in Stockholm will constitute a primary remedy to the results of the Israeli aggression against Lebanon, while [the Beirut I international donor conference] will take place later this year."

The European Commission has pledged an initial 42 million euros ($53.9 million) to help kickstart postwar reconstruction in Lebanon, External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said Wednesday.

The cash will be offered at the conference in Stockholm on Thursday, which Lebanon hopes will raise a total of $500 million for short-term recovery work like clearing unexploded bombs, rebuilding homes and restoring roads.

"We are 100 percent committed to helping Lebanon in its physical rehabilitation," Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement. "But a successful long-term recovery will also require political and economic reforms." - With agencies





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