The first cries by citizens were heard yesterday coming from the southern Lebanese town of Al-Taybah to express their indignation at the fact that the head of the unconstitutional government, Fu’ad Siniora, has been withholding the compensation money and to protest against its depriving them of their right to rebuild their homes, said Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV on Wednesday.
It quoted one resident as saying: ‘I ask every government that gave aid to Lebanon to send a committee to see the situation in southern Lebanon, let alone the destruction.
‘Come see, people are living in the streets. Shame on such a government!’
The Al-Manar correspondent Ali Shu’ayb said: ‘The first popular cries came from Al-Taybah border town in the south.
‘Those afflicted staged a sit-in in front of the municipality building in protest against the withholding of their compensations without justification.
‘Those who participated in the sit-in raised some slogans criticising the head of the ruling party.
‘Standing in the midst of damaged houses, they expressed their dissatisfaction with the tragic reality lived by the owners of the damaged houses because they are unable to begin rebuilding their homes as they have not received one piaster until now.’
A woman told the TV: ‘We are moving from one house to another. My family is 15 members. We cannot live in the streets.’
A man added: ‘I have yet to see money. My son is living the same situation.
‘His house was destroyed, too, and he is living in a vehicle. This is not acceptable. What is this government?’
Another man said: ‘In Al-Taybah we have about 200 houses, residential homes that have been partially or completely destroyed.
‘No one has received even one pound to this day from the Higher Commission for Relief except for what Hezbollah allocated in the form of providing shelter for the residents.’
Shu’ayb continued: ‘The demonstrators were joined by Jihad Hammud, head of the Jabal Amil Municipalities Union, and the heads of the municipalities of several neighbouring villages.
‘The head of Al-Qantarah Municipality spoke at the sit-in, explaining in detail the plight of those afflicted by withholding of the compensations.
‘The head of Al-Taybah Municipality read a statement that was issued by the demonstrator.’
Hasan Qazan, head of Al-Taybah Municipality said: ‘We demand that Prime Minister Siniora release the compensations to our people, which are held in the desks of the Higher Commission for Relief, so that they, our people, may begin rebuilding their destroyed homes before next winter.
‘The houses that were completely destroyed in Al-Taybah and in the neighbouring areas have not received a single piaster of the compensations.’
Mayor Qazan called on the government to ‘release compensations, not only those allotted to destroyed homes but also those allotted to the agricultural and industrial sectors which have suffered much during and following the war.’
He warned: ‘We will not stop here, we will keep on staging sit-ins and participating in protests until our demands are met.’
Qazan called on donor countries, the ‘Kingdom of Saudi Arabia namely’, to pressure the government to pay compensations and ‘abandon the discriminatory attitude adopted against Southerners’.
Correspondent Shu’ayb commented: ‘This is the first reaction following that by the deputies representing the south and the heads of the union of the municipalities and forces of the southern cities and towns in Al-Musaylih.
‘It is expected that more popular reactions will begin in the coming days in response to the decisions of the follow-up committee, which emanated from the Al-Musaylih gathering to release the allocations withheld from those afflicted by the July offensive.’
Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah promised on Monday that the opposition would intensify its demands for compensation for victims of the summer 2006 war with Israel until the government makes ‘decent’ payouts.
‘We will continue until our demands are met,’ Fadlallah pledged.
He said that Hezbollah would stage a rally in front of the Saudi Embassy in Qoraytim on Tuesday to demand that compensations be paid, ‘since Saudi Arabia is one of the major donors, and since it has taken upon itself reconstruction works in more than 96 Southern villages.’
‘We have prepared a detailed file about compensations and the delay in paying those compensations that we will be presenting to officials at the embassy, in a bid to have them press on the government to pay war allocations,’ Fadlallah said.
Premier Fu’ad Siniora last week to accusations by MPs from the South and the Biqa valley that the government was wilfully holding up compensation payments.
The payment of compensations had ‘slowed down’ because the government wanted to study cases ‘individually’ before allotting funds, Siniora said, going on to detail payments that he said had been made this far.
‘It turns out that a number of people who own apartments built on illegal property are applying for compensation and giving them money is just not feasible or fair,’ he added.
The opposition ascribes what it says are delays in payments to political favouritism on the part of the government.
Amal MP Ayub Humayid said Siniora’s government was ‘biased and inhuman’ on the compensations issue.
‘Political animosities should not stand in the way of paying compensations to innocent people who have lost their homes and property during an atrocious war,’ Humayid said during a political rally in the town of Bayt Layf in South Lebanon.
Humayid accused the government of ‘exploiting the compensations files’ as a means of ‘political usurpation.’
He was not ‘optimistic’ about a government response to compensation demands, he said.
‘Rather than keeping the money for themselves and giving futile excuses about the delay in paying compensations, the government should have come up with means to make the compensation process move more effectively,’ Humayid said.
Pro-government leaders added to Siniora’s defence of the handling of compensations early this week.
In an interview with Al-Anb’a magazine published on Tuesday, Druze leader Walid Junblatt defended Siniora, saying that the premier ‘is doing his best to erase the negative repercussions of the war.’
‘We should all stand behind Siniora and help him achieve the reconstruction plan he has in mind for the South and Beirut’s southern suburbs,’ Junblatt said.
But resigned Labour Minister Trad Hamadeh said in an interview with Voice of Lebanon radio on Monday that the government saw compensations as a ‘tool to pressure the opposition’.
Hamadeh also accused Siniora of ‘forging data and falsifying facts’.
‘All the numbers and figures given by Siniora in his many news conferences are unfounded; they are random and are not based on any serious study or survey,’ he said.