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Hezbollah rebuilds, in more ways than one

The US designated terrorist group-turned construction company regroups despite political quagmires, the global recession and sanctions.

As the refugees arrived, the southern suburbs’ concrete apartment towers, most of them about 10 stories high, were hastily constructed, often not meeting the minimum standards for building safety. Many were built illegally. Electricity, sewage and water problems still plague the old buildings.

Now, few who are moving back in miss much about their old apartments. As a subtle message to Israel, the buildings are essentially all being built on the same grid, and the apartment layouts are basically the same. But there are new, modern additions.

“The building is now built to withstand an earthquake,” said Ilhama Nahlay, a housewife who recently moved into her new apartment. She spoke on the steps to her building as two men behind her worked on installing the elevator in the tower’s shiny new entranceway.

Waad falls under the responsibility of Hezbollah’s reconstruction wing, called Jihad al Binaa. Jeshi, the general manager, won’t say from where his organization receives its money, only to say that Arab countries have donated money and materials through NGOs and the Lebanese government. But Hezbollah is widely believed to receive millions of dollars in funding from Iran every year. Despite the Islamic Republic’s funding other projects overtly in Lebanon, Jeshi says he doesn’t know anything about it.

“I didn’t take money from Iran, and no one from Iran came here to give us money,” he said. “I have relations with Hezbollah, and if Hezbollah has their relations with Iran, OK, but I have no business with Iran.”

Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., and last year Waad was added to the U.S. Treasury terrorist list. The designation froze all funds related to the group in the U.S., and made it illegal for Americans to donate money to the project.

"The Waad Project is another example of Hezbollah’s use of deceptive tactics to support its military and terrorist apparatus," said a treasury department press release quoting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey. The Treasury Department accuses Waad of reconstructing not just buildings, but Hezbollah’s command bunkers and underground weapons storage facilities.

But Jeshi says the terrorist designation had no effect on the reconstruction funding or progress. The global recession, he says, has also had little impact.

“The NGOs are still giving money,” he said. “They are still giving me reconstruction materials, marble, iron, concrete and ceramics. And still money is coming from the government.”

That last part is a particular sore point between Waad and the Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is a part. Oil-rich Arabian Gulf countries like Qatar and Kuwait pledged more than a billion dollars to the Lebanese government for reconstruction after the war in 2006. The aid is still being distributed, but residents who lost homes in the southern suburbs are slated to each receive around $50,000 from the government.