Southern Lebanon has been heavily affected by 22 years of continued Israeli occupation and aggression that have left massive destruction in infrastructure and private property, large scale and substantial displacement of population and out-migration, and losses in human lives.

      The first Israeli assault on Lebanon took place on December 1968, when Israeli warplanes bombarded Beirut International Airport completely destroying Middle East Airlines civilian fleet. In spring 1978, the Israeli army invaded southern Lebanon. Beirut was besieged and bombed during a second Israeli invasion in summer 1982 to uproot Palestinian Liberation Organization presence in Lebanon.

      When withdrawing from Central Lebanon in 1984/1985, the Israeli army enlarged its occupation of the previously occupied region of southern Lebanon. The prolonged Israeli occupation has inflicted heavy political and economic anguish on the entire Lebanese territory. The country had to endure heavy reprisals by the Israeli army against legitimate acts of resistance by Lebanese

liberation fighters who had been fighting the occupation and the “Southern Lebanon Army” militia.

      Thus, very severe blows were inflicted on the Lebanese economy through large hostilities by the Israeli army in 1993 and 1996. Three successive attacks in June 1999, February and May 2000, were the last acts of aggression by Israel before its withdrawal on May 24, 2000. These attacks targeted civilian infrastructure, completely destroying several electricity plants and bridges.

      On May 24, 2000, Israel withdrew its troops from territory in southern Lebanon, which it had been occupying since 1978. The withdrawal followed a notification by Israel to the United Nations that it planned to withdraw its troops in Lebanon to the internationally recognized borders between Lebanon and Israel, in fulfillment of United Nations Resolution 425 which was

passed by the Security Council in 1978, following the first Israeli invasion of Lebanese territory.

      Over the past two months, the South witnessed the deployment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on the borderline, followed by the deployment of the Lebanese Army and Security Forces in the liberated regions.

      The scars of the occupation by the Israeli army and its proxy militia in the previously occupied zone and its bordering areas became more evident after the withdrawal. Land, resources, physical infrastructure, population, social fabric, human resources and their capabilities have all been ruthlessly affected.

      The loss in human resources due to the occupation is numbered in thousands of deaths and handicapped, and tens of thousands of displaced. It is estimated that the previously occupied zone has lost more than two thirds of its inhabitants due to the 22-year occupation. Furthermore, those with psychological trauma as well as prisoners and previous detainees represent lost resources. Today, the inhabitants of southern Lebanon live in precarious economic conditions and a quarter of the households have a monthly income of less than $300 for an average family of 4.8 persons.

      The territory carries the traces of the Israeli occupation: several minefields, uncultivated arable areas generally corresponding to possibly mined zones, abandoned agricultural lands, deforested areas, vast burned fields and deserted terrain and buildings.

      Although southern Lebanon possesses important water resources, the Israeli occupation is largely responsible for the lack of water resource management and development by competent technical and administrative services. Today, villages in the South are the most afflicted by water shortage, not only for irrigation purposes (90% of the cultivation is not irrigated), but also for potable water needs.

      On the economic front, the Israeli occupation resulted in the dislocation of markets for goods and services and induced a near cessation of economic activities in southern Lebanon: industry and trade are in recession, tourism is almost non-existent and agriculture has regressed.

      The physical infrastructure of the villages of southern Lebanon is currently in a very poor condition. Due to the occupation, this region of Lebanon has been neglected and public infrastructure and services (road network, electricity, telecommunication, sanitation, health conditions, and schools) have suffered major losses during the past three decades and they need serious maintenance and rehabilitation.

      However, the present situation of southern Lebanon should not undermine the fact that this region possesses important potential for development, which should be harnessed as soon as possible. First, southern Lebanon can benefit from the dynamism of its population and the support of its expatriates. Second, the region possesses fertile lands, a sunny and favorable climate, and abundant water resources; hence, it can develop into a regional

food and agricultural production center. Third, if properly exploited, developed and managed, water resources can have a major effect on the economic and social dynamics of the region. Fourth, the historical, religious and archeological sites and areas of natural beauty offer great potential for the development of tourism.

      Hence, what matters today is to exploit these potentials and to put into operation a transition period from an era of emergency assistance to another era of development, in order to be able to face the important challenges that have risen after liberation, especially those of creating jobs so as to ensure a successful return of the population to the region.

      Yet, such a major development cannot succeed without the largest number of partners, whether financial or others providing technical assistance, financial resources, aid and grant and other contributions, including promoting private sector investment. The government of Lebanon believes that many partners will positively respond to the call to participate in rebuilding and developing the South and the Western Bekaa to the benefit of Lebanon and the Middle East.