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Saudi Arabia to give Lebanese army $3bn

Laila Bassam, Erika Solomon

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has indicated that the grant is likely to be spent partly on weapons from France as a counterweight to Hezbollah.

Saudi King Abdullah. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia is giving the Lebanese army $3-billion in aid, Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman said on Sunday, calling it the largest grant ever to the country's armed forces.

He indicated during the televised address that some of the money was likely to be spent on weapons from France.

One of the few institutions not overtaken by the sectarian divisions that plague the country, Lebanon's army is ill-equipped to deal with internal militant groups, particularly the Shiite Muslim guerrilla and political movement Hezbollah.

The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia may be seeking to bolster the army as a counterbalance to Hezbollah, which is seen as the most effective and powerful armed group in Lebanon and funded by regional Shiite power Iran.

"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.

"His Highness suggested that weapons would be purchased from France, and quickly."

French President Francois Hollande is currently meeting with Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh. Hollande has said that France, if asked, will readily supply weapons to the Lebanese army. 

Lebanon's armed forces have been struggling to deal with violence spreading over the border from Syria's civil war.

The country, which is still rebuilding itself after a 15-year civil war, has seen clashes between gunmen loyal to opposing sides of the Syrian conflict, as well as militant attacks on the army.

Rising regional Sunni-Shiite tensions have been stoked by the fight in neighbouring Syria, which generally pits the country's majority Sunni Muslim rebels against President Bashar al-Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. – Reuters

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