He made the announcement at a special conference of international donors and humanitarian agencies in Stockholm called by the Governments of Sweden and Lebanon to discuss immediate humanitarian needs and early recovery from the crisis.
Mr Benn also announced more UK aid to the Palestinians. A further £3 million ($5.5m) will be provided through the Temporary International Mechanism to help ensure that water, sanitation and electricity supplies are kept running by providing finance for essential operation, maintenance and repair work. The UK has now pledged a total of £6 million to this international fund in the last month and is prepared to provide more.
Mr Benn made the announcements during a speech at the Stockholm conference as he underlined the UK’s commitment to help the people of the region. He said:
“I visited Lebanon two weeks ago to see for myself the damage done by this ugly war which killed over 1,000 Lebanese and 170 Israelis and affected many more.
“From early on in the conflict, the UK answered the Lebanese people’s call for help with shelter, health care, access routes, water and sanitation and munitions clearance and today’s allocation to the Recovery Plan underlines our continued commitment.”
Hilary Benn also announced that the first three prefabricated bridges being sent from the UK by Antonov aircraft to help open critical humanitarian supply routes to those isolated in southern Lebanon will arrive in Beirut tomorrow, Friday 1 September.
Dealing with the high number of spent and unexploded munitions is a major problem and the allocation Mr Benn announced today means that the UK will meet approximately half of the munitions clearance requirement set out in the Recovery Plan, by providing £1 million ($1.9m) to the UN Mines Action Service.
Hilary Benn also stressed the urgency of lifting the blockades to commercial shipping, echoing the call made by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Siniora. And he stressed the need for the current fragile ceasefire to hold and for a lasting peace in the region.
“I fully understand Israel’s concerns,” he said, “but I want to stress how important it is that Israel now lifts all restrictions on normal shipping entering Lebanese ports in order to help restore the economy.
“This tragedy means that Lebanon needs our aid, but more than anything else, what Lebanon and the region need is peace. The implementation of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1701 is a first step, but more needs to be done. Without addressing the root causes, we will find ourselves responding to problems like this again and again. Only negotiation, compromise and above all political leadership can bring an end to the pain and suffering experienced by people on both sides.”
On the UK’s announcement of further funding for the Palestinians, Hilary Benn said:
“We cannot forget the plight of the Palestinians, especially in Gaza, where violence continues to rage and people die. Today, I am announcing further UK support to the Palestinians of £3 million for water, sanitation and electricity to be provided through the Temporary International Mechanism which doubles our contributions to date.”