Saudi halts $3 bn in aid to Lebanon army: official

19th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

Saudi Arabia said Friday it has halted a $3 billion programme for military supplies to Lebanon in protest against Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group fighting in support of Syria's regime.

In light of positions taken by Hezbollah the kingdom proceeded to "a comprehensive review of its relations with the Lebanese republic", an unnamed official told the Saudi Press Agency.

It added that the remainder of a $1 billion financing package for Lebanese internal security forces had also been stopped, in a separate decision.

A Lebanese military source told AFP that the "Lebanese army command hasn't been informed" of the Saudi aid halt.

The $3 billion programme funded military equipment provided by France. The modernisation programme, known in France as Donas, aimed to ensure stability in the country weakened by internal divisions and threatened by jihadists.

Alleged leaders of Lebanon-based Hezbollah are under sanction by Saudi Arabia.

Hezbollah is supported by Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran, with whom relations have worsened this year.

Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran last month after demonstrators stormed its embassy and a consulate following the Saudi execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric and activist.

The official quoted by the Saudi Press Agency said the kingdom had noticed "hostile Lebanese positions resulting from the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the State".

Syria's war has exacerbated political rivalries within Lebanon, which has been without a president for almost two years because of fierce disagreements between Hezbollah and its rivals.

The official cited by Saudi Press Agency said Lebanon had not joined condemnation of the attacks on its diplomatic missions in Iran, either at the Arab League or the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

He also deplored the "political and media campaigns inspired by Hezbollah against Saudi Arabia", as well as the group's "terrorist acts against Arab and Muslim nations".

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday accused Turkey and Saudi Arabia of dragging the entire region into war and said "victory" was imminent for his group and its Syrian regime allies.

Nasrallah said the two countries have pushed to send international ground forces to Syria because they "are not ready to accept a political solution to the conflict in Syria, which is why they want to continue the war and destroy it".

Saudi Arabia supports rebels opposed to Syria's government.

The Donas programme was to ship vehicles, helicopters, drones, cannons and other equipment to Lebanon.

After an initial delivery of 48 Milan anti-tank missiles in April the programme was delayed as Saudi authorities sought a review of certain aspects of the deal, a French source said earlier.

But France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian later said "the execution of Donas resumed normally at the end of 2015", as reflected in the signing of contracts with the companies concerned.

This included a deal for about 200 armoured vehicles.

burs-it/srm


© 2016 AFP

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