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Lebanese Parliament Meets on Border

May 31, 2000

BINT JBEIL, Lebanon (AP) _ The Lebanese parliament met on Israel’s doorstep Wednesday _ sometimes in darkness as the electricity went out _ and pledged $46.3 million to help rebuild war-devastated south Lebanon.

The parliament’s extraordinary session, held in Bint Jbeil less than two miles from Israel’s border, was the first signal the government was moving to take control of the area.

Underscoring the difficulties the region faces, part of the parliamentary session was conducted in the dark because the electricity failed and a backup generator malfunctioned.

Bint Jbeil, like the rest of the former Israeli zone, was largely cut off from the rest of Lebanon during the occupation.

Israel provided electricity, water, telephones, hospitals and jobs. At least for now, the humanitarian branch of Hezbollah said it was stepping in to provide some of those services.

Jihad al-Binaa, Arabic for Struggle for Reconstruction, has distributed water to residents, sprayed insecticides in 35 villages and has sent out veterinarians to check cattle, said Ibrahim Ismail, an agricultural engineer who is the group’s director.

Another Hezbollah branch sent mobile clinics to outlying villages. Hezbollah also took over the only hospital in Bint Jbeil, and its doctors began performing operations and delivering babies.

The first baby born after the end of occupation was a girl her parents named ``Tahrir,″ Arabic for liberation.

``We did not want to leave any shortages in health service,″ said Fouad Taher, who is running the hospital Israel renovated 10 years ago.

Ismail, the agricultural engineer, estimates 1,500 homes were destroyed in the occupation. Many more were damaged by fighting.

The government has estimated the cost of repairing the damage at $1 billion, and Ismail indicated the Jihad al-Binaa aid group expects the government to handle the bulk of the rebuilding.

Deputy Prime Minister Michel Murr said the Cabinet plans to approve a first payment of $33 million to rebuild destroyed or damaged houses. A sum of $3.3 million was allotted to restore electricity within a week, he said.

Murr also said the government will spend $10 million to provide water to 70 percent of the area within a month, adding that rest will be taken care of in three months. In the meantime, water is being supplied by tanker trucks, he said.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called on the government to offer tax exemptions and to give compensation to residents to rebuild homes.

Bint Jbeil, the largest Shiite Muslim town in south Lebanon, saw its population of 60,000 dwindle to 4,000 during the occupation, which was marked by almost daily fighting by Lebanese guerrillas against Israeli troops and their allied Lebanese militiamen.

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