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Sat 3 Mar 2007 12:00 AM

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Political tensions hamper Lebanon's reconstruction

Efforts to rebuild have been further stalled by US blacklisting of Hezbollah's Jihad al-Binaa.

Political tensions in Lebanon continue to slow down construction and are hampering efforts to rebuild the country.

Despite billions of dollars worth of investment being ploughed into the country's real estate sector before the 34-day bombardment by Israel last July, no new contracts have been awarded since the war, and work that was underway has been slow to progress.

"Everything in Lebanon has slowed down. No one is willing to invest in the country until people get the assurance that all political issues have been resolved," said Rasheed Mikati of Arabian Construction Company (ACC), the company behind the US $100 million Platinum Tower in Solidere's Beirut City Centre development.

"Whatever wasn't started before the war is being put on hold, to our knowledge."

The $600 million Beirut Gate being developed by Abu Dhabi Investment House (ADIH), also in Beirut Central District, remains on track despite months of Hezbollah-led political protests bringing much of Beirut to a standstill.

Michael Lawrence, director of real estate, ADIH said: "With regards to the protestors occupying the land, ADIH has officially requested for Solidere to remove them.

"The demand for land remains strong with several interested parties negotiating with ADIH. The current situation has not led to interested parties withdrawing from the project but it is delaying the completion process of the sales."

Reconstruction efforts could be further hampered by reports this week that the US has slammed sanctions on Jihad al-Binaa, the construction arm of Hezbollah, saying that it is directly funded by Iran.

Under a presidential order, the Treasury froze any US assets held by Jihad al-Binaa, claiming that the company is used by the militant group to attract ‘popular support' through civilian construction services.

Jihad al-Binaa has been at the forefront of reconstruction efforts in Lebanon since the ceasefire in August 2006, mainly in the rebuilding of homes in the south.

According to Wajih Bizri, president of the Lebanese International Chamber of Commerce, the group's efforts are unlikely to be affected by the US's actions.

"What Jihad al-Binaa is doing will eventually give the group's cause more respect," he said.

"But they are definitely doing a good thing and as long as what they're doing is positive to society it shouldn't be stopped."

Since the war ended, the International Union of Architects has been involved in sending ‘emergency architects' to Lebanon to work with local architects and deliver long-term reconstruction aid.

"Very often the big institutions take too much time over things because of their own governance and political issues," said President Gaetew Siew.

"But the people are desperate. Those who can really deliver the goods are those who will be recognised by the local population. Jihad al-Binaa has responded to their needs immediately. You can't rely on the government so you have to rely on people like this, with all the problems it creates.

"In Lebanon, this is exactly how Hezbollah is getting a lot of recognition at the moment."

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