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Armed With Iran's Millions, Fighters Turn To Rebuilding

"Do you need anything?" Abu Shaker shouted. "Just your safety," the driver of one car yelled back.

He turned his head away. "When someone needs help, they come to us," he said.

Along the street he walked, Hezbollah brought in the first relief -- trucks carrying steel water containers and others, "God" written on the front, with loaves of bread wrapped in plastic and black crates of peppers, grapes, peaches, sardines and processed cheese.

A few buildings down was the office of Abu Jassim, another Hezbollah activist, dressed in khaki military-style pants and carrying a walkie-talkie that crackled with short bursts of communication. A few hours before, he said, a 10-person Hezbollah committee staffed with engineers had begun its work surveying each damaged building in the province. The crew would document the work with photographs and a prepared form. He expected the committee would finish its work within a week, "at the most." It would determine which houses would be repaired and which demolished, then work would begin immediately.

Another committee was working on water, electricity and other infrastructure, he said.

"The party has a lot of money," said another activist, 30-year-old Abu Jaafar, standing next to a white Honda motorcycle, with a knot of other men. "How did it defeat Israel? You can't get weapons without money."

He predicted the work might take as many as two or three years. "If we said sooner than that, people would laugh at us," he said.

Hezbollah has long had a reputation inside Lebanon as one of the country's most efficient organizations, sometimes outstripping the government's meager capacity in the poorer areas like southern Lebanon. Into the 1970s, some of the villagers here had no roads, hospitals or schools.

In that environment, Hezbollah distinguished itself as a social organization by its lack of corruption, ability to mobilize its people and success in fulfilling its promises. After the last Israeli campaign in 1996, Hezbollah said it repaired 5,000 Lebanese homes, rebuilt roads and provided compensation to 2,300 farmers. After the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, ending an 18-year occupation, its teams sprayed insecticides in 35 villages and dispatched veterinarians to check on cattle.

That record has incubated dissonant perceptions of the group: best remembered in the West for its role in the attacks on the Marine barracks and U.S. Embassy in Beirut during Lebanon's civil war, and designated a terrorist organization by the United States; often cited here for its charity and perceived role in defending the Shiite community in a country where individual rights are usually subsumed in the collective interests of Lebanon's religious sects.

"What Sayyid Hasan says, he does. Has he not done that from the first day of the war?" asked Hussein Heidar, a 29-year-old sitting with friends in a bombed-out swath of Khiam. A tire was tossed in the street, next to a sign for Nour Shoes. Beside him was Mohammed Amin, a 52-year-old resident who had returned Tuesday and was slumped in a red plastic chair along the sidewalk.

"We're going to rebuild at the fastest pace possible," he said.

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