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U.S. pledge to support Lebanon totals almost $770 million (euro592 million), Rice says

U.S. pledge to support Lebanon totals almost $770 million (euro592 million), Rice says

The United States will pledge almost $770 million (euro592 million) to help rebuild Lebanon and support its fragile government, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday.
Rice's announcement en route to a pledging conference in Paris on Thursday came after anti-government protests in Beirut turned deadly on Tuesday, offering fresh proof of Lebanon's deep political and sectarian divisions.
The U.S. donation, which must be approved by Congress, would include $220 million (euro169.2 million) in military aid for the beleaguered Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. The money could go for small arms, ammunition, spare parts and Humvees, U.S. officials said.
Lebanon remained tense Wednesday after the protesters called out by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia clashed with government supporters across the country, killing three. What had been planned as a peaceful nationwide work stoppage turned into the worst violence since Shiite Hezbollah militants and their allies launched a campaign two months ago to remove Saniora's government.
"What you saw yesterday was irresponsible in the violence that erupted," Rice told reporters traveling with her to the 35-nation conference meant to help Lebanon recover from the summer war between Israel and Hezbollah and make a dent in its huge national debt.
The street protests and violence underscore the world's duty to help the democratic government survive in Lebanon, Rice said.
Saniora also will attend the donors' session in Paris, which Rice said is proof that he will not be intimidated by political opponents at home.
Although the Saniora government is among the warmest to the United States than any Lebanese government in two decades, he has paid a cost in criticism that he is a puppet of Washington.
Rice will meet privately with Saniora on Thursday, patching up a relationship strained by Saniora's frustration that it took 34 days to get a United Nations cease-fire in the Israeli-Hezbollah war.
The United States was widely viewed as sanctioning Israel's desire to do as much damage as possible to Hezbollah, and with it to much of Lebanon, before the campaign stopped last August. The war wasted towns in southern Lebanon, destroying bridges and roads and other structures that neither Hezbollah nor the Beirut government have been able to replace quickly.
The Israelis blamed the damage on Hezbollah's practice of conducting operations in the middle of Lebanese villages, thereby drawing retaliatory Israeli fire.
Hezbollah, backed by Iran and allied with Syria, is a military and political organization that controlled much of southern Lebanon before the war. The United States considers the group a terror organization. Its popularity among many of Lebanon's majority Shiites rose after the war, but the extent of its political clout is uncertain.
Rice did not directly answer a question whether Tuesday's demonstrations reveal that Hezbollah is strong enough to bring down Saniora. His collapse could re-ignite civil war in a nation of 4 million that has traditionally been a Middle East battleground.
"I assume they would not want to plunge Lebanon into open conflict and to kill lots of innocent Lebanese to pursue their political goals," Rice said.
The United States and other Western nations that support Saniora see crucial stakes in Lebanon, hoping the country can emerge from years of war as an oasis of stability in the Middle East without interference from countries like Syria or Iran.
The Paris session is expected to bring in pledges of about $5 billion (euro3.8 billion). The government estimates its needs at about $3.5 billion (euro2.7 billion) to repair buildings and infrastructure damaged in the August war. Lebanon owes a staggering debt of $40 billion (euro30.8 billion), some of it dating to the 1970s and the country's long and bitter civil war.
The U.S. money would more than triple last year's pledge of $230 million (euro176.9 million) and represents a major increase over past years' annual offerings of $30 million to $40 million (euro23.1 million to euro30.8 million).
The largest chunk of that money would be a $250 million (euro192.2 million) cash reserve to be meted out as the Lebanese government meets targets for financial and structural overhauls.
About $184 million (euro141.5 million) would go to the U.N. peacekeeping force that is supposed to keep postwar order in southern Lebanon, and $60 million (euro46.1 million) would support internal Lebanese security services.
It is not clear whether any of the money would pay directly for efforts to disarm Hezbollah, which the United States insisted must be part of a settlement to end the war but has never happened.


Updated : 2021-06-18 02:08 GMT+08:00