Saudis vow $3b to boost Le­banese army

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By RYAN LU­CAS in Beirut The As­so­ci­ated Press

Saudi Ara­bia has pledged $3 bil­lion to Le­banon to help strengthen the coun­try’s armed forces and buy weapons from France, Le­banon’s pres­i­dent said on Sun­day.

Michel Sleiman, who de­scribed the grant as the big­gest ever for the na­tion’s mil­i­tary, gave no fur­ther de­tails in a tele­vised na­tional ad­dress.

The Le­banese army has strug­gled to con­tain a ris­ing tide of vi­o­lence linked to the civil war in neigh­bor­ing Syria, a con­flict that has in­flamed sec­tar­ian ten­sions in Le­banon and threat­ened the coun­try’s sta­bil­ity.

“The Saudi king de­cided to give a gen­er­ous, wellap­pre­ci­ated grant to Le­banon amount­ing to $ 3 bil­lion for the Le­banese army, which will al­low it to buy new and mod­ern weapons,’’ Sleiman said.

“The king pointed out that the weapons will be bought from France quickly, con­sid­er­ing the his­tor­i­cal re­la­tions that tie it to Le­banon and the mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries.’’

French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande was due to dis­cuss the is­sue dur­ing his visit to Saudi Ara­bia on Sun­day, Sleiman said, adding that he hopes Paris will quickly meet the ini­tia­tive, and help the Le­banese army with arms, train­ing and main­te­nance.

Le­banon, frag­ile in the best of times, is strug­gling to cope with the fall­out from Syria’s civil war.

The con­flict has deeply di­vided Le­banon and par­a­lyzed the coun­try’s ram­shackle po­lit­i­cal sys­tem to the point that it has been stuck with a weak and in­ef­fec­tual care­taker gov­ern­ment since April.

It has also seen a wave of deadly bomb­ings and shoot­ings that have fu­eled fears that Le­banon, which ex­pe­ri­enced a bru­tal 15- year civil war of its own that only ended in 1990, could be slowly slip­ping back to­ward full-blown sec­tar­ian con­flict.

Sleiman said in his ad­dress that “Le­banon is threat­ened by sec­tar­ian con­flict and ex­trem­ism,’’ and that strength­en­ing the army is a pop­u­lar de­mand.

The Le­banese army is gen­er­ally seen as a uni­fy­ing force in the coun­try, and draws its ranks from all of Le­banon’s sects.

But it has strug­gled to con­tain the escalating vi­o­lence in the coun­try since the out­break of the Syr­ian con­flict. It is also widely con­sid­ered much weaker than the Shi­ite Hezbol­lah mil­i­tant group, which is armed and funded by re­gional Shi­ite-power and Saudi-ri­val Iran.

The Saudi pledge ap­peared aimed, at least in part, at boost­ing the mil­i­tary in re­la­tion to Hezbol­lah.

KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

For­mer Le­banese prime min­is­ter Saad Hariri, left, meets French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande in the Saudi cap­i­tal Riyadh on Sun­day. Saudi Ara­bia has pledged $3 bil­lion to Le­banon to buy weapons from France, Le­banon’s pres­i­dent said on Sun­day.

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