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Lebanon army urges France to speed up weapons delivery

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Lebanese army urged France on Tuesday to speed up arms deliveries under a Saudi-financed deal as it battles jihadists on the Syrian border, prompting Paris to pledge a "quick" response.

The call issued by General Jean Kahwaji came as his troops battle jihadists in clashes since Saturday that have killed at least 16 soldiers and left 22 more missing.

Saudi King Abdullah, meanwhile, phoned Lebanon's former president Michel Sleiman and pledged Riyadh would try to accelerate delivery of the support.

"This battle requires equipment, materiel and technology that the army doesn't have," Kahwaji told AFP.

"That's why we need to speed up the delivery of the necessary military aid by finalising the list of weapons requested from France under a Saudi-financed deal," he said.

Last December, Riyadh agreed to finance a $3 billion deal to purchase French military equipment and arms for Lebanon's army, which has long complained of being sorely under-equipped.

And in mid-June, at an international conference in Rome, the international community pledged its backing for the Lebanese military.

But talks on the list of material to be furnished to the army under the Saudi-French deal have yet to be finalised.

France's deputy foreign ministry spokesman, Vincent Floreani, on Tuesday underlined the commitment of Paris to the Lebanese army.

"France is fully committed to supporting the Lebanese army, a pillar of stability and unity in Lebanon," he said.

"We are in close contact with our partners to quickly meet Lebanon's needs."

In a phone call with Sleiman, King Abdullah also expressed his oil-rich state's support for Lebanon and its military, Sleiman's office said.

The king "expressed his country's support for and position alongside the military establishment in the face of terrorism," it said.

He had also "stressed his determination to speed up the implementation of support for the Lebanese army," under the Saudi-financed deal.

Sleiman finished his term in office earlier this year, but consensus has yet to be reached on his successor.

Kahwaji's request came as the Lebanese army battles jihadists in the Arsal region of eastern Lebanon on the border with Syria.

- Arsal situation 'dangerous' -

He warned that "the situation in Arsal is dangerous."

"The battle that the army is undertaking in the mountains of Arsal is just one in a series of confrontations against terrorism in all its forms and wherever it is," he added.

At least 16 soldiers have been killed in the Arsal fighting, including two officers, according to security sources, and the army said 22 troops are missing, possibly taken hostage.

Another 20 policemen are also missing, security sources say, and 86 soldiers have been wounded.

"The army's fight against the takfiris (extremists) is continuing and the army is determined to recover the missing soldiers," Kahwaji said.

The fighting in Arsal erupted after soldiers arrested a man accused of belonging to Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front.

In the northern city of Tripoli, a 12-year-old girl was killed and 11 people were injured, seven of them soldiers, in violence since Monday night linked to the Arsal clashes, a security source said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140805/lebanon-army-urges-france-speed-weapons-delivery-1