Jeddah, 10 Shawwal 1435/6 August 2014 (MINA) – Saudi Arabia has given Lebanon’s military $1bn to help its fight against self-declared jihadist fighters on the Syrian border.
The Saudi gift came as Lebanon army’s chief urged France to speed up promised weapons supplies and amid reports that a group of Muslim religious leaders were trying to mediate an end to the fighting.
After fighting in the eastern area on Tuesday, where troops have been clashing with the fighters since Saturday, ambulances entered the town of Arsal amid reports of a temporary truce, Al Jazeera quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.
Earlier, three out of 20 police officers detained by the fighters were released, according to police sources, reportedly as part of negotiations for a ceasefire.
There was a brief lull in the fighting, but shelling and artillery fire resumed on Tuesday evening, an AFP correspondent said.
The Arsal violence has left 16 soldiers dead and 85 wounded, while dozens of fighters are said to have been killed, along with three civilians.
Another 22 soldiers are missing, possibly having been taken hostage.
Tensions have also risen in northern Lebanon, with clashes there killing a child and wounding 11 other people, including seven soldiers.
Clashes erupted in parts of the northern port city of Tripoli on Monday night and continued into Tuesday.
Fighters clashed with soldiers in the Bab el-Tebbaneh district, where Sunni fighters regularly fire on the army and their pro-Syrian regime neighbours in the Jabal Mohsen area.
The fighting killed a 12-year-old girl and injured 11 other people, seven of them soldiers hurt when armed men attacked their bus.
The fighting in Arsal started on Saturday after the arrest of a Syrian man who the army said had confessed to being a member of the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate battling Assad’s forces.
While France has said it will respond “quickly” to Lebanon’s request to expedite weapons delivery, Saudi Arabia has gone further and handed Lebanon’s army $1bn to strengthen security, according to Saad Hariri, former Lebanese prime minister.
Saudi King Abdullah “has informed me of his generous decision to provide the Lebanese army … with $1bn to strengthen its capabilities to preserve Lebanon’s security,” Hariri announced in Jeddah early on Wednesday.
Speaking from King Abdullah’s palace in the Saudi Red Sea city, Hariri – the Lebanese Sunni community’s most prominent political representative – added that “we have received this aid”.
“This aid is very important especially at this time when Lebanon is fighting terrorism,” he said.
Saudi Arabia is already financing a $3bn package of French military equipment and arms for Lebanon’s army.
The fighting in Arsal is the worst violence to hit the volatile border region since the 2011 outbreak of the armed uprising in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad.
Speaking to AFP, Lebanon’s army chief General Jean Kahwaji said the military was hamstrung in its fight against the fighters.
“This battle requires equipment, materiel and technology that the army doesn’t have,” Kahwaji said.
“That’s why we need to speed up the delivery of the necessary military aid by finalising the list of weapons requested from France under a Saudi-financed deal.”
In December, Saudi Arabia agreed to finance the $3bn package of French military equipment and arms for Lebanon’s army.
And in mid-June, at a conference in Rome, the international community pledged its backing for the Lebanese military.
Details of what arms will be furnished have yet to be finalised.
France insisted on Tuesday that it stood behind the Lebanese army.
“France is fully committed to supporting the Lebanese army, a pillar of stability and unity in Lebanon,” Vincent Floreani, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said.
“We are in close contact with our partners to quickly meet Lebanon’s needs.”
Lebanon is hosting one million Syrian refugees, and despite an official policy of neutrality towards the conflict in its larger neighbour, it has regularly seen the fighting spill over.
Kahwaji warned “the situation in Arsal is dangerous”. (T/P09/E01)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)