Eighteen of the Arab League's 22 foreign ministers are attending the Sunday meeting, but in a sign of growing discord between some Arab nations and Syria, the main backer of Hezbollah in the Arab world, Walid Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister skipped the meeting.

 

Many Arab governments have expressed resentment over last week's speech by Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in which he criticised fellow Arab leaders for not supporting Hezbollah.

 

He said the war had revealed them to be "half men".

 

Ahmed Ben Heli, the Arab League's deputy secretary-general, said the ministers would discuss a plan to create an Arab League fund to rebuild Lebanon.

 

Lebanon's appeal

 

He did not elaborate, but other diplomats said Egypt was proposing a 13-point plan to raise the money and distribute it. The meeting was yet to fix a timeframe for.

 

The war has destroyed 15,000 
houses and 140 bridges

Fawzi Sallukh, the Lebanese foreign minister, urged his Arab counterparts to make further commitments.

 

"Lebanon is awaiting more Arab aid for its reconstruction," Sallukh told journalists after talks with Amr Mussa, the league secretary general.

 

He said he expected the league to adopt a resolution on Sunday expressing its support for Lebanon.

 

GCC contributions

  

Several Arab countries, notably the Gulf monarchies, have already announced packages to help Lebanon rebuild its infrastructure after the month-long Israeli offensive.

 

The Kuwaiti government plans to donate $800 million, announced Sheikh Mohammed Al Sabbah, the country's foreign minister, upon arrival in Cairo.

 

"Lebanon is awaiting more Arab aid for its reconstruction" 

Fawzi Sallukh,
Lebanese foreign minister

Saudi Arabia said it had already donated $500 million, and other oil-rich nations have also made pledges to chip in.

 

Foreign ministers from the Arab League had met in Beirut on August 7 and declared their full support for the Lebanese government.

  

An Arab League ministerial delegation then headed to the United Nations headquarters in New York to request changes to a French-US draft resolution that was unanimously passed on August 11 after weeks of wrangling.

  

Last week, Hesham Youseef, an aide to Mussa, said the league was working on a new peace plan to present to the UN security council next month.

 

He said the new peace initiative would be high on the agenda of Sunday's gathering.

 

League initiative

 

The Arab League says it has the backing of UN security council nations to convene a meeting in New York in September to revamp the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

 

Details remain sketchy, and already Israel has expressed scepticism, saying it doubts any plan Arab countries put forward would take into account its security needs.

 

Diplomats said Arabs wanted to counter a flood of money that was believed to be coming from Iran to Hezbollah to finance reconstruction. An estimated 15,000 apartments were destroyed and 140 bridges hit by Israeli bombardment in Lebanon, along with power and desalination plants and other key infrastructure.

 

Hezbollah's contribution

 

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, has pledged to help rebuild Lebanon. Hezbollah social workers have begun distributing money to people who lost their homes so that they can buy furniture and pay rent. Each person is receiving $12,000 in cash.

 

Hezbollah leader Nasrallah has
pledged to help rebuild Lebanon 

Nasrallah did not say where the money would come from, but Iran, which helped create Hezbollah and is its strongest supporter, is believed to have helped.

 

However, Iran - which is not an Arab nation and not part of the league - denied on Sunday that it was sending money.

 

Hamid Reza Asefi, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, said: "Hezbollah is a legitimate body in Lebanon; they have their own economic resources and popular support there."

 

Israel to rebuild north

 

Meanwhile in Israel, amid criticism that his government mishandled the war, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, says he will pour money into the north of the country.

 

"The government has decided to place at the top of its agenda the strengthening of Haifa and the north of the country," Olmert said at the start of a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

 

The offensive is estimated to have cost Israel $5.7 billion (4.4 billion euros), the equivalent of 10% of the state budget or about half of the defence budget.

  

Included in the sum is more than $1.3 billion in damage from rockets fired by Hezbollah, which are estimated to have demolished or damaged 12,000 homes, 1,600 cars, 600 businesses and 100 factories.