France, Lebanon Sign $3 Billion Saudi-Funded Arms Deal

Reuters06.11.2014 Lebanon
France, Lebanon Sign $3 Billion Saudi-Funded Arms Deal

France, Lebanon Sign $3 Billion Saudi-Funded Arms Deal

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France and Lebanon signed on Tuesday a Saudi-funded deal worth $3 billion to provide French weapons and military equipment to the Lebanese army to help it fight jihadis encroaching from neighboring Syria.

The Lebanese Army, one of the few institutions not overtaken by the sectarian divisions that plague the tiny country, has few resources to deal with the instability on its border and has been seeking to modernize its military hardware.

Lebanese Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji attended the signing ceremony at the Royal Palace in Riyadh after an almost 11-month delay.

The Saudi Minister of Finance Ibrahim bin Abdul Aziz al-Assaf and the Head of ODAS company Admiral Edouard Guillaud, will sign the deal on behalf of their countries in the presence of French Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Bertrand Besancenot.

ODAS is the French agency in charge of promoting defense sales in Saudi Arabia.

France will begin shipping arms to the Lebanese Army in the first quarter of next year, a defense ministry source in Paris said Wednesday.

The shipment will consist of combat and transport helicopters, armored vehicles, anti-tank missiles and heavy artillery, the source added.

The deliveries will last around three years but the French military will train their Lebanese counterparts in using the equipment over a 10-year period, the source said.

In December, Saudi Arabia agreed to finance the $3-billion package of French military equipment and arms for the Lebanese Army.

And in mid-June, at a conference in Rome, the international community pledged its backing for the Lebanese military.

Saudi Arabia had also pledged to grant Lebanon a $1 billion aid for the Army.

“I welcome the signature of the contract to help the Lebanese army. This agreement, financed by a Saudi grant, will contribute to strengthen the Lebanese army, which guarantees the unity and stability of Lebanon,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Parliament on October 8 the deal included land, air and naval equipment.

Lebanese officials fear Islamist insurgents from the Syrian war are trying to expand their influence into Sunni Muslim areas of northern Lebanon.

They see a rising threat from groups such as al Qaeda's Nusra Front and the ultra-hardline Islamic State, which may try to open up new supply routes between Syria and Lebanon as winter unfolds.

Jihadis attacked and briefly seized the Lebanese border town of Arsal in August and since then the army has stepped up its efforts to prevent fighters from crossing into Lebanon.

“This deal will help to ensure the Army's mission to defend its territory and to fight terrorism at a time when Lebanon is threatened,” Fabius said.

Lebanon, a former French colony, has officially tried to distance itself from Syria's civil war, but its Hezbollah movement has sent fighters to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Lebanon, which is still rebuilding after its own 15-year civil war, has also seen clashes between gunmen loyal to opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, as well as militant strikes on the Army and cross-border attacks by Syrian rebels.

Source: Reuters; AFP



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