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Lebanese army to receive $3 billion from Saudi ‘to purchase French arms’

© File photo AFP/HO/SPA - Michel Sleiman (L) and Saudi's Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-30

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said Sunday that Saudi Arabia will give $3 billion to buy weapons from France to help support and strengthen the Lebanese army.

The surprise announcement was made during a televised national address as French President François Hollande was visiting Saudi Arabia. Sleiman called the $3 billion in aid "the largest grant ever given to the country’s armed forces".

“I am happy to tell the Lebanese people that the Saudi ruler will give a grant of $3 billion to strengthen the army,” Sleiman said, according to a quotes published by the state news agency. “The Saudi grant will allow the Lebanese army to purchase weapons from France.”

Hollande said that France was ready to supply weapons to the Lebanese army during a press conference Sunday in Saudi capital Riyadh.

Growing sectarian tensions

Fragile in the best of times, Lebanon is struggling to cope with the fallout from the civil war in neighboring Syria. That conflict has deeply divided Lebanon along confessional lines, 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 suffered a brutal 15-year civil war of its own that only ended in 1990, could be slowly slipping back toward full-blown sectarian conflict. The latest violence took place on Friday, when a car bomb killed a senior Sunni politician who had been critical of Syria and its Lebanese ally, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

In a nod to those concerns, Sleiman said in his address that “Lebanon is threatened by sectarian conflict and extremism,” and said that strengthening the army is a popular demand.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2013-12-29

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