Stockholm talks raise $940 million for Lebanon

Donor countries meeting in Stockholm on Thursday pledged more than 900 million dollars (6.7 billion kronor) in aid for immediate reconstruction efforts in Lebanon, Swedish officials said.

“An amount exceeding 900 million dollars was pledged at the Stockholm conference,” Swedish Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson told delegates, later updating the sum to 940 million dollars.

Including previous contributions, the total aid pledged so far for Lebanon’s acute needs totals 1.2 billion dollars, he said.

“This conference has met its objectives by a wide margin,” he added.

Swedish organisers had originally said they hoped to raise 500 million dollars.

“You are not alone,” Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson told Lebanon as he opened the conference in Stockholm of some 50 countries and a dozen organisations.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said the cost of the damage wrought by Israel’s offensive would run to billions of dollars, but any aid effort would be undermined unless Israel lifted its blockade.

“The direct damage from this last invasion to our infrastructure and to our public and private property is now running into the billions of dollars,” Siniora told representatives from the United States, European, Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

Losses in economic output, jobs, and the long-term direct and indirect costs to the economy including lost revenues in tourism, agriculture and industry are expected to be “billions more”, he said.

Siniora said that unless Israel’s “humiliating” air and sea blockade on Lebanon were lifted, “the recovery process, including this conference today … will be severely undermined.”

“If we are to have real peace and stability in the Middle East, the root causes of this war must be addressed,” he said.

He urged the UN Security Council to take a leading role to find lasting peace in the region, and called on Israel to recognize Palestinian statehood and “withdraw from all the Arab lands it occupies.”

United Nations undersecretary general Mark Malloch Brown called for an immediate end to the blockade and a political solution to the underlying causes of the conflict.

“Otherwise aid risks substituting for the real oxygen of recovery: private investment, which will stay away if the risk of conflict remains high,” he said.

The first donors’ conference to be held since the conflict broke out in July aims to raise money to provide shelter for those left homeless by the Israeli bombings, access to medical care, repair infrastructure including water and electricity supplies, and remove unexploded ordnance.

UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland has accused Israel of mounting a “completely immoral” cluster bomb blitz just before the ceasefire went into effect that left as many as 100,000 unexploded bomblets in south Lebanon.

“The political objective is to send the message that we want to have a strong Lebanon,” host of the meeting Swedish Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson told reporters.

It “is not only in the interest of the Lebanese people … but also of the region. I think Israel and other neighbours have much to gain from a stable and prosperous Lebanon,” he said.

Even before the conference opened several countries had announced pledges for Lebanon’s acute needs.

The European Union announced an additional 42 million euros, bringing its total aid pledges since the start of the conflict to 100 million euros. Saudi Arabia has also announced 500 million dollars, Kuwait 300 million dollars and the United States 230 million dollars.

Lebanon’s prime minister said the money would be spent transparently and rejected the idea that aid to southern Lebanon, where the Shiite militia Hezbollah is based, would end up in Hezbollah pockets.

“This idea that it will be siphoned in one way or another to Hezbollah is entirely, completely a fallacy and is not true,” he said.

“The assistance will be channelled through government agencies and this will go to the needy people directly. It will not have any intermediary in any way,” he said.

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, some 300,000 people are still displaced, or seven percent of the Lebanese population. About one million people had to flee their homes because of the conflict.