Despite deep economic and political crises, Lebanon is facing an unprecedented property boom, spurred by the appetite of developers, expatriates and Gulf Arabs.The boom started last year despite dramatic events that shook the country, and which turned on the assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri, with property prices soaring an average of 50 per cent.

Beirut has witnessed a major face-lift with the new construction boom, mostly in the once war-ravaged downtown area being rebuilt by the private company Solidere, which runs properties valued at about $5 billion.Brand new residential high-rises financed by Lebanese and Gulf investors now tower over the marina near the seafront road where Hariri was killed in a massive car bombing in February 2005.

"Very often, when the first picks strike the ground at the construction sites, between 75 and 80pc of these projects are already sold to rich Lebanese or Arab nationals," Raja Makarem, manager of Ramco realty, said.Victor Najarian, director general of CARE realty, said "we are managing about 15 projects worth a total value of $1 billion and we hope to double that amount within a year."

Along the downtown seafront area, apartments run at between 600 and 1,000 sq m and sell at $5,000-6,000 per sq m.

Relatively smaller apartments in the downtown area sell at $3,400-4,500 per sq m.

"And Lebanon can still expect more, as it has great potential in the five years to come," Najarian said. He noted that five luxury hotels and a dozen large projects were underway along the seafront, where about 30 more projects are due to be launched.

Solidere sold land worth a total of $1.1 billion in the first quarter of 2006, five times more than in all of last year, Makarem said.

The latest Ramco report said: "Gulf investors may have propped up Lebanon’s balance of payments with more than $1 billion during 2005 alone. Gross foreign capital inflow reached $3.9 billion in the first four months of this year, increasing the balance of payments surplus to $1.4 billion, according to figures from the Central Bank of Lebanon.