Lebanon vows to buy more advanced weapons

Aug. 9, 2010 at 6:47 AM
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BEIRUT, Lebanon, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- The Lebanese president said the government will immediately buy more advanced military equipment in the wake of last week's fatal southern border clash with Israel.

"Lebanon will work with friendly countries to provide it with more advanced equipment," President Michel Suleiman told reporters during a visit to soldiers in Adissyeh in southern Lebanon.

Arming the military is aimed at "protecting the dignity of the nation," he said during a speech to the soldiers in which he praised their performance during the fighting, saying "it's necessary to resist Israeli aggression."

Suleiman didn't give details of what equipment or numbers would be considered. But the Cabinet will put forward a plan at its next session to arm the Lebanese military "with all that is necessary."

Suleiman and Defense Minister Elias al Murr, inspected the army base in Adissyeh near where the clashes took place.

They also met U.N. officers in the area and the president reiterated that Lebanon will cooperate with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon in the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. The resolution of Aug. 17, 2006, ended a 33-day war between Israel and Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah in which around 1,200 people, mostly Lebanese civilians, died.

The recent clashes happened while Israeli troops were trimming a tree on the border fence between Israel and Lebanon. Lebanese soldiers opened fire at an observation post around 900 feet from the fence in Israeli territory.

Two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist were killed in the fighting. On the Israeli side, a senior Israeli officer was killed and another was seriously wounded.

Concern within the Lebanese government over military procurement was heightened after what it said were efforts by Israel to block or hamper future defense equipment purchases in the United States and France.

Israel has questioned whether sales of military equipment to the Lebanese army isn't the same thing as sending arms to Hezbollah.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren warned last week that the distinction between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah is "cloudy" and advanced weapons delivered to the Lebanese army could end up in the hands of Hezbollah.

Members of Lebanese parliament criticized what the moves and the leader of Hezbollah party, Hassan Nasrallah, said his people didn't take part in the border clashes.

But Hezbollah wouldn't remain neutral in any future clash between the Lebanese army and Israel, said Nasrallah.

Another member of Lebanon's parliament, Ali Khreis, said he wasn't surprised to hear of efforts to block arms sales to Lebanon "because the U.S. always supported Israel."

The Lebanese government is also concerned about reports by the Central News Agency that the French Senate's French-Lebanese friendship committee claims there is a delay sending arms and equipment to the Lebanese army.

Delayed equipment includes helicopters with air-to-surface missiles, an agreement ratified in January by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his French counterpart Francois Fillon.

The deal with the French company Euro Tech is to revamp 13 Gazelle helicopters owned by Lebanon as well as equip 10 Puma helicopters granted by the United Arab Emirates to Lebanon, including the training of pilots.

The Pumas are for transport and logistics roles and not for direct combat operations.

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