The director of the U.S. Agency for International Development said today that the first tents for Palestinian refugees whose homes were destroyed in the war here last summer will go up in the next few weeks.
Speaking at a press conference after a two-day visit to southern Lebanon, AID Director Peter McPherson said the U.N. Relief and Works Agency was now clearing the land of rubble in Ain Hilwe camp outside Sidon to make way for the tents.
The decision to put up tents was delayed because the Israelis and the Lebanese government objected to them. Both have been reluctant to do anything that would lead to the reestablishment of permanent Palestinian settlements on the sites of the old camps.
McPherson said 60,000 Palestinians need shelter in southern Lebanon for the coming winter; the U.N. has put the number at 63,000.
"I want to assure you that it is of utmost importance to us to get those tents up," he said, adding that there now exists an emergency situation at Ain Hilwe. He said of the $110 million committed here for emergency relief and rehabilitation, AID has set aside $14 million for work related to housing the refugees.
He sidestepped a question about whether the latest delay in taking any action to meet the crisis was the fault of the Lebanese government, saying it was no longer a political problem but a logistical one.
McPherson said another major problem in preparing the grounds at Ain Hilwe for the tents was unexploded munitions, which he said are all over the area.