Hizbollah emerges from shadows in Baalbek

BAALBEK — At a roundabout facing the Roman ruins of Baalbek, 10-year-old Hassan Ali, a member of Hizbollah’s Al Mahdi Scouts youth group, distributes sweets to drivers entering the town.

In his yellow scarf, grey shirt and blue cap, a Hizbollah flag to his right and a photo of the movement’s chief Hassan Nasrallah to his left, Hassan smiles at the arrivals and congratulates them for the “victory” against Israel.

A metre further along, his comrade of the same age appeals to the generosity of passersby, presenting them with a box filled with Lebanese pounds.

“We are asking for money to rebuild our country,” says Hassan.

When asked whether the donations will be enough for that costly task, he replies wisely: “We also need international aid.” Since the ceasefire in Lebanon took effect Monday and Israeli air strikes halted, Hizbollah members, who had kept a low profile to avoid being targeted, have resurfaced in Lebanon’s ancient city of Baalbek.

Two Hizbollah first-aid workers next to a grubby station wagon distribute food rations to people displaced from their homes.

“Each ration feeds a family of four people for one week,” one says.

While local traders clean up their shops, two members of Hizbollah’s Jihad Al Bina (construction for the sake of the holy struggle) organisation make inspections, one surveying a shop while the other takes notes.

“We will start giving compensation from Wednesday,” said one of the pair, adding that the first beneficiaries would be those “who have lost everything”.

We are going to allocate a substantial amount so that each family can rent a house and buy furniture until we can rebuild their homes,” he said.

“We will also compensate those who have lost their cars, factories, chicken coops and farms,” he added.

According to the mayor, about 3,000 homes were destroyed or damaged in this town during the monthlong Israeli offensive against Hizbollah.

Earlier this week Nasrallah said that people whose homes have been completely destroyed, an estimated 15,000 of them, would be compensated first.

In one district of the town, a three-storey building, which until the war housed a Hizbollah information office, has been flattened, like many other buildings used by the Shiite movement.

In the street, the town’s Hizbollah member of parliament, Jamal Takch, accompanies the head of the information department at Baalbek, Hajj Ahmad, to the Al Naura restaurant, run before the war by Hizbollah members.

Youths beaver away cleaning the inside of the eatery, whose windows have shattered, while in the garden four other Hizbollah lawmakers chat leisurely.

“This will be our temporary office until we have found a new one,” said Hajj Ahmad.

Later a group of lawmakers heads off to visit damaged neighbourhoods. As they arrive in one badly scarred district, a man appears as if from nowhere, probably a Hizbollah security agent, and stops them.

“Don’t go any further, we haven’t finished our inspections here” for unexploded bombs, he tells them

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