Saudi Arabia to give Lebanese army $3 bln

Lebanese president announces a $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia to support the national army

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Saudi Arabia is giving the Lebanese national army $3 billion in aid, Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman said on Sunday, describing it as the largest grant given to the armed forces in Lebanon’s history.

“The king of the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is offering this generous and appreciated aid of $3 billion to the Lebanese army to strengthen its capabilities,” Suleiman said in a televised address.

Suleiman said the Saudi funds aim in the first place to support Lebanon’s unity, and will allow the naitional army to purchase French weapons.

He also said the deal was discussed during the visit of French President Francois Hollande to Saudi capital on Sunday.

The aid pledge comes amid mounting sectarian tension in Lebanon related to the war in neighbouring Syria.

Lebanon's powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement is fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces against an uprising that many Lebanese Sunnis support.

Saudi Arabia is a leading backer of the opposition battling Assad's regime, which has relied on strong support from Shiite Iran.

Suleiman's announcement comes two days after a bombing that targeted a leading critic of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime, though the Saudi aid pledge did not appear to be directly related.

He said the money would be used to buy weapons from France, pointing to the "historical ties that link it to Lebanon and the depth of the military cooperation between the two countries".

Suleiman did not specify what weapons would be purchased.

Lebanon's armed forces are woefully under-equipped and face multiplying security challenges, underlined by the bomb attack on Friday and rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel on Sunday that prompted return fire from the Jewish state.

(with Reuters and AFP)

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