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Britain to train Lebanese forces

Feb. 21, 2013 at 12:17 PM

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- The British government will work in 2013 to train more than 2,000 members of the Lebanese military, British Foreign Minister William Hague said.

Hague met Thursday with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and other leaders in Beirut.

With bilateral trade increasing 11 percent last year, and Lebanon's position in the Middle East, Hague said Lebanon is a "hugely important country" to the British government. Lebanese forces, he added, have a critical role to play in national security.

"That is why we are increasing our training assistance package," he said in a statement. "We will help the Lebanese armed forces train over 2,000 troops in the coming year."

Syria's past influence over Lebanon has led to concerns that civil war may spill over the shared border. With Lebanon taking on more Syrian refugees as the war drags on, Hague said the British government was considering a financial aid package to help Beirut cope with the crisis.

Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri expressed concern that the government was tacitly handing security of the southern border over to Hezbollah's armed wing.

"We were not far from the truth when we said the resistance is no longer the main function of Hezbollah," he was quoted by The Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon as saying.

The newspaper Wednesday reported members of the rebel Free Syrian Army had issued threats against Hezbollah.

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