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French-Saudi arms deal for Lebanon to be inked Tuesday

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and France are to finalise Tuesday a deal to provide Lebanon’s army with $3 billion worth of French weapons, with Riyadh footing the bill, a Saudi daily and a French source said.

The deal, first announced in December, comes as the poorly equipped Lebanese army battles jihadists, including from the Islamic State group, in the north and along its border with war-torn Syria.

“This battle requires equipment, materiel and technology that the army doesn’t have,” Lebanon’s army chief Jean Kahwaji told AFP in August, urging France to speed up the promised weapons supplies.

A signing ceremony for the deal would be held on Tuesday morning in Riyadh, the French source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The contract, which has gone through months of negotiations over the list of weapons to be supplied, would now “be rapidly implemented,” the French source said.

Al-Hayat, a Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily, said the first arms shipment under the deal would be delivered to Lebanon “within a month”.

The newspaper, quoting sources in Paris, said the arms deal would be signed by Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assad and Edouard Guillaud, the head of the ODAS organisation set up by France for the export of defence equipment.

In December, OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia agreed to finance a $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.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on September 10 urged the international community to present a “common front” against the Islamic State group, saying his country was “impatiently” waiting for the French-made weapons.

Saudi Arabia in August gave Lebanon’s military another $1 billion to strengthen security. -AFP

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