The Lebanese parliament, holding a special session in the former Israeli occupied security zone, pledged a reconstruction package for the war-devastated area after 18 years of Israeli control.
Thousands of Muslims, cheering and slaughtering sheep in continued celebration Wednesday, gathered outside a high school where scores of white patio chairs were hastily arranged in a hall for the lawmakers' impromptu meeting.
The extraordinary Parliament session -less than two miles from Israel's border - sent the first signal that the government was getting ready to take control in south Lebanon following the May 24 Israeli withdrawal. The area, home to about 120,000, was cut off from the rest of Lebanon during the occupation and was virtually a part of Israel, which provided electricity, water, telephones, hospitals and jobs.
More than 2,000 people died on both sides during the occupation - marked by almost daily fighting by Lebanese guerrillas against Israeli troops - and some villages were completely destroyed. Other areas became a front line under constant fire. The government has estimated the cost of repairing the damage at $1 billion.
Meanwhile, United Nations envoy Terje Roed Larsen said Wednesday Syria had fully accepted the U.N. report that concluded an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon did not require handing over the disputed Shebaa Farms area.
Larsen had gone to Damascus to see Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara to gain Syrian support for the measures the U.N. is taking to secure peace in southern Lebanon.
"The foreign minister informed me that Syria accepts fully the report of the Secretary-General of the 22 of May this year which also defines the lines for the purpose of confirming the withdrawal," he said.
Last week Shara told a news conference in Lisbon an Israeli withdrawal had to include the Shebaa Farms, an area along the edge of the Golan Heights that the U.N. concluded was Syrian territory occupied by Israel in 1967.
Before opening the session in southern Lebanon, 105 of the Parliament's 128 deputies stood for a minute of silence along with Prime Minister Salim Hoss and his 15 ministers to honor "martyrs of Lebanon and the resistance."
Deputy Prime Minister Michel Murr said the Cabinet plans to approve a first payment of $33 million to rebuild destroyed or damaged houses. A sum of $3.3 million was allotted to restore electricity within a week, he said.
The government will spend $10 million to provide water to 70 percent of the areas within a month, Murr said, adding that the remaining areas will be taken care of in three months. In the meantime, water is being supplied by tanker trucks, he said.
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