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RECONSTRUCTION

Arab leaders meet on aiding Lebanese rebuilding effort

CAIRO -- Arab foreign ministers debated yesterday how to fund reconstruction in Lebanon and defuse Mideast tensions amid rising discord between moderate Arabs and Syria, a main backer of Hezbollah.

Kuwait plans to donate $800 million to Lebanon, Foreign Minister Sheik Mohammed Al Sabah said upon arrival for an emergency Arab League meeting. Saudi Arabia said it had donated $500 million, and other oil-rich nations have made pledges to chip in.

Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh of Lebanon urged his Arab counterparts to make further commitments.

But the foreign ministers did not agree on a plan. They said the league's Arab Social and Economic Council would convene to discuss how to fund rebuilding efforts.

Worried that the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel has given a boost to radical militants and their Syrian and Iranian backers, diplomats said Arabs want to counter a flood of money that is believed to be coming from Tehran to Hezbollah to finance reconstruction projects.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has pledged to help rebuild Lebanon, and Hezbollah social workers have begun distributing money to civilians who lost their homes -- paying out $12,000 in cash per person.

Nasrallah did not say where the money would come from, but Iran, which helped create Hezbollah and is its strongest supporter, is believed to have opened its treasury for the rebuilding program. Iran, which is not an Arab nation and is not part of the league, denied yesterday that it was sending money to Hezbollah.

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