Hezbollah distributes cash in devastated south Beirut

BEIRUT, Aug 18, 2006 (AFP) – Hezbollah on Friday began distributing tens of thousands of dollars to residents in battered southern Beirut whose homes were hit during Israel’s month-long offensive targeting the Shiite militia.

Families whose homes were destroyed received 12,000 US dollars each from Hezbollah officials operating out of a secondary school in the predominantly Shiite neighbourhood.

"I received 12,000 dollars to rent a house for one year and to furnish it," said Hajj Mohammed, 40, whose apartment in Bir Abed district was completely destroyed.

The money, counted out in 100 dollar bill increments by Hezbollah officials and handed to residents who lined up to take the cash, is meant to help pay for one year’s rent and new furniture, according to Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah.

"Hezbollah has a program to rebuild because people cannot live in the street," said Hezbollah deputy Hossein Hajj Hassan, without saying where the funds had come from.

"We have sources of income, thank God," he said, adding that it was "normal" for "Iranian social groups to help" Hezbollah, which has been branded a terrorist group by some western governments and was attacked by Israel in a campaign which only ended in a shaky truce Monday.

Iran and Syria are considered the main backers of Hezbollah, though they deny funding the group.

During its offensive, Israel fired volleys of shells into Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut’s southern suburbs, flattening whole apartment blocks and leaving hundreds destitute.

The barrages caused an estimated 3.6 billion dollars in damages.

In the absence of government aid, Hezbollah established reception centers to field complaints and try to manage aid efforts for those who lost homes or possessions in the fighting.