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Resilient Lebanon

Smoke billows from Burj al-Shemali, three kms east of the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre, following an Israeli air strike August 8, 2006.

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Today four Israeli soldiers were reportedly killed in a rocket attack in Southern Lebanon. Lebanese police say 41 people died during an Israeli air raid in a Beirut suburb on Monday. So far the damage to that nation's infrastructure has been estimated at $3 billion. But Ben Gilbert reports from Beirut that the Lebanese have developed an expertise at rebuilding after years of war.


BEN GILBERT: Fadi Namar lived through his country's 15-year civil war that began in 1975. He witnessed the Israeli invasion of 1982. But the sheer tonnage of Israel's current air campaign is something he's never seen before.
FADI NAMAR: "Not like this. Because every bomb is like between 500 kilo, and 2-3 tons. Before the war of '75, it's not like that . . .at all."

Namar is the Director General of Roads and Buildings at the Lebanese Ministry of Transportation. Employees are scared to come to work, as the Israelis target major bridges and roads. Namar says the scale of destruction is stunning.

NAMAR: "All the infrastructure is broken. All of it. destroyed, even."

Namar says 75 bridges have been destroyed, or about 85 percent of the country's main bridges. Two of the runways at Beirut's International Airport have craters in them. Beirut's port has been hit, and fuel storage tanks targeted. The infrastructure costs, right now, amount to an estimated $2.5 to $3 3 billion.

Here in the southern Suburbs of Beirut, whole neighborhoods are devastated. 12-story buildings have been sliced apart, spilling their rubble and interiors onto the street.

After so many years of war, the Lebanese know something about rebuilding. But Lebanese economist Marwin Iskander says this time it will be harder. In just one month, Israel has undone much of the rebuilding of the past 15 years.

MARWIN ISKANDER: "In southern suburbs, as I understand it, and nobody can be accurate, you had 400 buildings destroyed, with at least 20 apartments in each building."

That's just an estimate. The government cannot even assess the damage to Lebanon's south, where 70 percent off the damage is estimated to have occurred.

Back at the Ministry of Transportation, Fadi Namar can't do much now. It's too dangerous to begin fixing anything while Israel continues air strikes.

NAMAR: "We are preparing for the time when it stops, when the war stops directly, with action plan, exactly, go through plan, and begin directly to work."

Farar says that when fighting ends, the roads should only take a month or two to repair. But replacing the bridges will take years and cost about $500 million. The Transportation Ministry's budget this year is $25 million.

In Beirut, I'm Ben Gilbert for Marketplace

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