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Donors pledge $940m to aid Lebanon relief

Funding will target bomb removal, shelter

STOCKHOLM -- International donors pledged more than $940 million yesterday for war-torn Lebanon's immediate relief efforts, nearly double the target amount.

The funds raised at the Stockholm meeting will go to short-term needs, from shelter for those who lost their homes in Israel's war with Hezbollah to the removal of unexploded bombs.

Lebanon hopes to hold a bigger conference later this year to raise money for longer-term reconstruction.

``We believe that this a very important accomplishment. . . . This will pave the way for further efforts," Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told a news conference.

He told the delegates from 60 countries and aid groups the pledges ``show that the Lebanese people are not alone."

A statement released after the conference said donors had promised more than $940 million. A Swedish Foreign Ministry official said this included $175 million of US funds, part of an aid package unveiled by President Bush last week.

Sizeable donations also came from the European Commission, France, and Italy. Conference host Sweden promised $20 million. With earlier commitments, more than $1.2 billion is available for recovery and reconstruction, the statement said.

The closing statement also urged Israel to heed a call from United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan to lift its six-week-old sea and air blockade of Lebanon and for UN Resolution 1701 be fulfilled.

The Swedish government had set a goal of $500 million in donor promises for Lebanon, which says a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas inflicted billions of dollars in damage to its infrastructure and economy.

``Lebanon, which only seven weeks ago was full of hope and promise, has been torn to shreds by destruction, displacement, dispossession, desolation and death," Siniora earlier said.

Stockholm will play host to a smaller gathering today to discuss humanitarian needs in the Palestinian territories.

Israel began bombarding Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in a cross-border raid. Nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed during the war.

Siniora said Hezbollah would have no access to funds raised in Stockholm. ``This idea that it will be siphoned one way or another to Hezbollah is a fallacy."

Lebanese officials said a priority was the building of 10,000 prefabricated homes for some of the 1 million people displaced by the destruction. Another was the removal of unexploded ordnance, including thousands of cluster bombs.

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