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Government lacks money to fully compensate bomb victims

[Lebanon] Destruction caused by the bombing in Beirut has cost traders thousands of dollars.
A Beirut man surveys bomb damage to his home (Mohammed Azakir/IRIN)

When Lebanon was rocked by a series of bomb explosions earlier this year, one of which killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, the government offered compensation to those who suffered injury and property damage.

But as the government began to pay out on 1,600 separate claims this month, many complained that US $12.7 million of public and private money earmarked for compensation payments was inadequate.

Yahia Raad, the secretary general of the government’s High Rescue Commission (HRC), which is responsible for assessing claims and making compensation payments, candidly admitted that there was not enough money in the kitty to satisfy everyone.

He noted that the total damages assessed for eligible claims came to $35 million – nearly three times more money than the Commission has to give away

Some victims of the eight separate bomb explosions will therefore receive more compensation than others.

“Our first priority,” said Raad, “is damages suffered by civilians. We will try to fully cover hospitalization bills and damages to houses and cars. Our second priority is damages suffered by companies and institutions, which will be reimbursed up to 50 percent. Third come the hotels, which will get 20 percent, if there is any money left.”

Syria suspected

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the spate of explosions which began with a truck bomb on 14 February that killed al-Hariri and 20 other people.

But many point the finger of blame at Syria, which has constantly meddled in the internal affairs of Lebanon over the past three decades.

A UN investigation team probing Hariri’s death is due to report its findings to the UN Security Council later this month. It is widely expected to implicate the authorities in Damascus in his murder.

Hariri’s death provoked a public outcry against Syria’s military presence in Lebanon and forced the Syrian government to withdraw 14,000 troops stationed in the country.

But President Bashar al-Assad of Syria vehemently denied that his government had anything to do with Hariri’s murder or the subsequent bombings in Beirut.

These brought back uncomfortable memories of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war when the rattle of gunfire and the thud of artillery shells frequently echoed across the city.

Most of this year’s bombs exploded late at night. They killed a total of 29 people and injured dozens more in predominantly Christian middle class areas of Beirut.

“It was an attempt to disrupt the peaceful co-existence between Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim populations and prove that Lebanon cannot live in peace without Syria being present,” said teacher Nayla Richa.

She lives near Geitawi, a predominantly Christian suburb, where the latest bomb exploded on 16 September. It killed one person, injured 23 more and damaged several apartment blocks.

Hit by flying glass

Lara Haddad, a 23-year-old student, was one of those hurt in the Geitawi explosion.

“The bomb exploded around midnight,” she said. “It was a huge blast. We were watching TV and were blown off the couch. At first I did not feel anything, but then I saw the blood. I had been hit by flying glass. Fortunately I had been sitting with my back to the window. Suppose it would have been my face!”

Her flatmate suffered a broken hand as she fell and Haddad’s car parked in the street below was wrecked.

“I have still not received the hospital bill, but that will not be high,” Haddad said. “I am more worried about being able to buy a new car. The old one was completely destroyed.”

Haddad’s landlord, Khalil Abdulkarim, is claiming US $70,000 of government compensation for damage to his now windowless first floor flat.

But he is not sure if he will get it, even though the HRC assessors agreed with his claim.

“I don’t know if I will be reimbursed,” he said. “The HRC lacks funds. But Byblos Bank has promised to donate $1 million which will be channeled through the HRW exclusively to the Geitawi victims. Let’s hope the bank keeps its word. Still, total damages in the area estimated to be at least double that amount."

Byblos Bank is one of several banks and private companies that have agreed to top up the government’s $7.7 million compensation fund with a further $5 million of donated and loaned money.

Fortunately, the Phoenicia Hotel, the biggest casualty of the bombings which suffered damage estimated at $16 million, does not have to rely on the government’s largesse.

The hotel’s insurance policy included $10 million of cover against war and terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, Nubar Ohannisian the owner of a small machine tool workshop which suffered limited damage from a bomb, is a happy man.

His $3,000 compensation payment came through last week. “Renovation can start at any moment,” he said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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