Lebanon announces $3B grant from Saudi for army

Associated Press
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Relatives and friends of Mohammed Chatah, a senior aide to former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who was assassinated on Friday by a car bomb, weep as Lebanese people carry his coffin during his funeral procession at Martyrs' Square in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. Angry mourners have chanted against Hezbollah as they buried the slain Lebanese politician who was critical of the Shiite militia. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's president said Sunday that Saudi Arabia has pledged $3 billion to buy weapons from France to help support and strengthen the Lebanese army.

President Michel Sleiman made the surprise announcement, which he called the largest-ever pledge for Lebanon's army, in a televised national address. He did not provide any further details, but said French President Francois Hollande was to discuss the matter during his visit Sunday to Saudi Arabia.

"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."

He said that he hopes Paris will quickly meet the initiative.

Fabrice Hermel, a spokesman for the French president, said he did not yet have details.

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.