France, Lebanon sign Saudi-funded arms deal
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 militants encroaching from neighbouring Syria, Reuters news agency reported.
“I welcome the signature of the contract to help the Lebanese army,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.
“This agreement, financed by a Saudi grant, will contribute to strengthen the Lebanese army, which guarantees the unity and stability of Lebanon,” he said.
“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.
He gave no further details. The French Defence Ministry is due to outline details of the contract on Wednesday.
French, Lebanese and Saudi officials attended Tuesday’s signing ceremony in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
In October, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament that the deal included land, air and naval equipment.
Saudi Arabia, which has already provided $1 billion in military aid to the Lebanese army, has recently taken part in U.S.-led air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants.
French and Saudi relations have improved sharply in the last two years.
The two countries hold similar views on the Syria conflict, where both insist Assad must step down.
President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah are both backed by Shiite regional heavyweight Iran.
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 Assad, a member of the Shiite-derived Alawite minority.