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Expert: Lebanon needs $1B in south
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(CNN) -- Lebanon's government needs a cash infusion of at least $1 billion to rebuild its shattered south if it is to meet Hezbollah's challenge for authority there, according to a U.S.-based expert on the Middle East.
Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., told CNN Wednesday that the Lebanese government was now in a competition with the militant Hezbollah group to "win the reconstruction."
He said Hezbollah, with the financial backing of Iran, so far was "out in front" in the process of rebuilding the devastated southern part of the country.
Hezbollah has been handing out cash payments of up to $12,000 to people whose homes and business were destroyed by Israeli bombing during the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah that ended with a cease-fire on August 14.
Indyk said the challenge was for the United States and countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to give Lebanon's government enough money to match this.
More than 900 Lebanese and 159 Israelis were killed in the fighting, which began on July 12. Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets into northern Israel, while Israeli aircraft bombed roads, bridges, large parts of southern Beirut, and towns and villages in the south of the country.
The United States and Israel consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and former U.S. assistant secretary of state, said the real issue now was whether the Lebanese government would be able to establish its authority in the south, where Hezbollah has held sway for decades.
He said the world should be under no illusion that the proposed U.N. contingent to be led by Italy would be an "enforcer" in southern Lebanon that could disarm Hezbollah. Its role is to back the authority of the Lebanese government there.
"Then it becomes a political battle between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah," he said.
The government would need to demonstrate that it could administer the area better than Hezbollah and that it could "deliver" on the reconstruction.
Italy said on Tuesday it was willing to lead the U.N. contingent and could contribute as many as 3,000 troops (Full story).
But first it said it wanted to see clear rules of engagement and the existence of a proper cease-fire. (Watch where Hezbollah hid during conflict -- 1:35)
The U.N. contingent would number about 13,000 in total, and would bolster the existing 2,000-strong U.N. observer mission already in southern Lebanon.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to attend a meeting of the European Union in Brussels on Friday that will discuss key aspects of the U.N. force.
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