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Cablegate: Lebanon: Ngo Head Says Hizballah Favors Shia In

VZCZCXRO8968
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #1944/01 3451537
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 111537Z DEC 07 ZFF5
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0471
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 1773
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 001944

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NEA/ELA/PI AND S/P JARED COHEN, NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID ECON LE PGOV PREL SY
SUBJECT: LEBANON: NGO HEAD SAYS HIZBALLAH FAVORS SHIA IN
SOUTH LEBANON OVER THOSE IN NORTH BEKAA

SUMMARY
--------

1. (SBU) Dr. Abbas Yaghi, a Shia local community leader from
the north Bekaa region and Shia rival of Hizballah, described
to Emboffs what he sees as Hizballah's favoritism towards the
Shia in south Lebanon, to the detriment to those Shia living
in the north Bekaa. Yaghi noted the vast differences between
reconstruction efforts currently underway in north Bekaa in
comparison to southern Lebanon, although both are
predominately Shia areas. He said there is a lack of
development assistance from the GOL, international donors
countries, and Hizballah for the isolated citizens of the
north Bekaa region and that they are in desperate need of
access to resources and outside influences to combat
traditional Hizballah, Syrian, and Iranian influences. Yaghi
also gave an update on development projects underway in the
northern Bekaa region and provided a summary of future
projects he is planning. End Summary.

HIZBALLAH DEVELOPS THE SOUTH WHILE IGNORING NORTH BEKAA
--------------------------------------------- ----------

2. (SBU) Emboffs met with Dr. Abbas Yaghi, head of 'ACT for
Lebanon' on December 4 to discuss development projects in
north Bekaa (Note: Bekaa is the valley region running north
to south in central Lebanon. End Note) Yaghi, a local Shia
leader with strong family ties to the north Bekaa region and
who views Hizballah as a rival to his family's own secular
organization, vented his frustration at what he sees as
Hizballah's efforts to discriminate against local Shia
leaders like himself who refuse to join Hizballah and who are
seeking to improve conditions in their communities without
the organization's help. With its position of strength and
lack of competition, Hizballah continues to gain ground in
north Bekaa according to Yaghi.

3. (SBU) Nevertheless, Yaghi said that Hizballah still
favors the Shia population in South Lebanon at the expense of
development in the north Bekaa region, whose less educated
and more isolated citizens actually need it more. Perhaps,
said Yaghi, Hizballah feels it has to try harder to keep
southern residents' loyalty. Meanwhile, Shia loyalty in the
north is being taken for granted by Hizballah because
citizens of the north Bekaa region are almost completely
dependent on Hizballah for local development, unlike their
Shia countrymen in the south.

4. (SBU) Yaghi also highlighted what he sees as
disproportionate levels of assistance between south Lebanon
and north Bekaa, two regions where many Shia live. In his
opinion, the Bekaa has seen fewer development funds invested
in the area from the GOL, international donor countries, and
Hizballah in comparison to the south, where development
efforts are clearly visible and being funded by a number of
local and international actors. Yaghi claims that there are
so many schools in the south that a number have had to be
shut down due to a lack of students. However, the opposite
is true in north Bekaa, where there are not enough schools
for all of the students. Yaghi also said that even before
the 2006 war with Israel, there were clear investment
projects in infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and
electricity plants in the south, funded by international
donors. Yaghi noted that, except for the United Nations
Development Program (UNDP) and a United States Agency for
International Development (USAID)- funded Mercy Corp project,
there are no development projects underway in north Bekaa.

5. (SBU) Yaghi said that this disparity exists because of the
fact that the south has, over the years, seen an influx of
different actors who play a role in the area. Yaghi added
that the Israelis, Europeans, and now the Lebanese Armed
Forces and the Government of Lebanon (GOL) have all been, or
are now, present in the south. Yaghi noted that the LAF and
GOL had no presence in the south, unlike the Israelis who
were present in the region from 1982 to 2000 and United
Nations peace-keepers (UNIFIL) who have been present in south
Lebanon since 1978 and continue to be present in the area
today. Yaghi said after the Israeli withdrawal from south
Lebanon in 2000, Hizballah became the dominant force in the
region, until the end of last summer's July War with Israel
when the LAF deployed to south Lebanon for the first time
since 1968 to enforce Security Council Resolution 1701 and
the GOL began trying to reassert it's presence as a governing

BEIRUT 00001944 002 OF 002


body in the area after a 40 year hiatus. Yaghi believes that
the south's "cosmopolitan" history and geographic location
have helped raise its level of strategic importance and
attract more reconstruction assistance. Yaghi argued that
north Bekaa has remained relatively isolated from the outside
world due to its poor roads and mountainous terrain. Yaghi
said that Bekaa residents have a much more restricted mind
set and mentality due to the area's location in a valley
between two mountain ranges. According to Yaghi, citizens of
the north Bekaa region only know the Syrians and Hizballah
and should be exposed to influences from the wider world.

SMALL PROJECTS UNDERWAY IN BEKAA
--------------------------------

6. (SBU) After lamenting about Hizballah, Yaghi then talked
about two projects under his supervision in particular, being
initiated by his organization in the northern Bekaa region.
First, Yaghi has begun work on a business center for small
and medium enterprise institutions. Services will be offered
to residents who need to use computers, copiers, fax
machines, and scanners. Yaghi added there would also be
office space available in the building for residents and
business owners to rent as their own personal office space at
a low cost.

7. (SBU) Yaghi has also begun construction on a multi-million
dollar sporting complex. The complex will include a soccer
field, basketball court, tennis, volleyball, and swimming
pool. Yaghi said next door to this complex is a Hizballah
controlled mosque. He is hopeful that no problems will arise
between the residents enjoying the mixed gender swimming pool
and the conservative mosque attendees. Yaghi noted that the
GOL built a huge sporting stadium in the Bekaa, however,
because its an outdoor field, it is only available in the
summer and is not very useful outside of this season due to
the area's harsh mountainous weather. Yaghi added that at
the moment he only has land for the sporting complex and that
the he would need an investment of around USD 2 million to
complete the project. MEPI Emboffs told Yaghi that MEPI
funds do not usually go towards infrastructure projects.

8. (SBU) Yaghi also commented on his organization's
participation in raising over USD 170,000 for the "Teach For
All" initiative in Lebanon, modeled on Teach for America.
Yaghi's organization is represented on the local Teach For
All group's board of directors and the board hopes to raise
around USD 1 million for the program for its first year.
However, Yaghi noted that all of the money to date has been
raised in the United States, primarily from Lebanese diaspora
living in the New York area. Yaghi commented fundraising is
difficult in country given the lack of emphasis placed on
charitable giving in the Lebanese society and culture.


COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) Yaghi's father was a former member of parliament and
mayor of the Bekaa city of Baalbeck. However, due to
Hizballah's growing strength in the area, this seat
traditionally held by his family has gone to Hizballah.
Yaghi himself wants to run for parliament, but does not want
to fight with Hizballah over his father's former seat.

10. (SBU) Yaghi seems to have a number of good ideas about
developing the Bekaa and is looking for a more informal, low
key, and flexible partnership. MEPI funding may be more
appropriate in terms of assisting Yaghi with training or
materials for his business center of providing some type of
assistance to the Teach for All program. End Comment.
FELTMAN

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