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Saudi Arabia Offers $3 Billion to Strengthen Lebanon’s Army

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Dec. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia has offered $3 billion to strengthen Lebanon’s army to protect the country from the threat of “sectarianism and extremism,” Lebanon’s president said.

“Strengthening the army is a national and popular demand of everyone” in Lebanon, Michel Suleiman said in a televised address today, according to a transcript published by the country’s National News Agency.

Lebanon’s army would use the aid to buy arms from France, Suleiman said, adding that he hoped “Paris would accept this initiative quickly.” The assistance was discussed by Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and French President Francois Hollande in their meeting today in Saudi Arabia, Suleiman said, according to NNA.

The announcement came as fire was exchanged between Israel and Lebanon today and two days after a car bomb in downtown Beirut killed former Finance Minister Mohamad Chatah, a member of the Western-backed March 14 coalition.

Lebanon is divided over the war in neighboring Syria, which pits mostly Sunni Muslim rebels against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, who is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. March 14, a coalition of several parties including the mostly Sunni Future Movement, has supported the opposition while the March 8 alliance, including the Shiite militant Hezbollah, has supported Assad.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Tuttle in Doha at rtuttle@bloomberg.net

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