Last updated: 5 August, 2014

Lebanon urges France to speed up weapons delivery

Lebanon’s army chief on Tuesday urged France to speed up promised weapons supplies to help his troops as they battle jihadists on the Syrian border.

After an afternoon of fighting in the eastern area where troops have been clashing with militants since Saturday, ambulances entered the town of Arsal amid reports of a truce.

Earlier, three policemen being held by jihadists were released, and there was a brief lull in the fighting, but shelling and artillery fire resumed on Tuesday evening, an AFP correspondent said.

Tensions also rose in northern Lebanon, where clashes killed a child and wounded 11 other people, including seven soldiers.

France said it would respond “quickly,” and Saudi Arabia, which is financing the French arms purchases for Lebanon’s army, also pledged to accelerate implementation of the deal.

Speaking to AFP, Lebanon’s army chief General Jean Kahwaji said the military was hamstrung in its fight against the jihadists.

“This battle requires equipment, materiel and technology that the army doesn’t have,” Kahwaji said.

“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.”

In December, Riyadh agreed to finance a $3-billion package of French military equipment and arms for Lebanon’s army.

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

Details of what arms will be furnished have yet to be finalised.

France insisted on Tuesday that it stood behind the Lebanese army.

“France is fully committed to supporting the Lebanese army, a pillar of stability and unity in Lebanon,” said Vincent Floreani, a foreign ministry spokesman.

“We are in close contact with our partners to quickly meet Lebanon’s needs.”

– ‘Situation dangerous’: Kahwaji –

Saudi King Abdullah, meanwhile, expressed his oil-rich state’s support for Beirut against “terrorism” during a phone call with former Lebanese president Michel Sleiman.

The king also “stressed his determination to speed up the implementation of support for the Lebanese army,” according to Sleiman’s office.

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

The fighting in Arsal is the worst violence to hit the volatile border region since the 2011 outbreak of the armed uprising in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad.

Lebanon is hosting one million Syrian refugees, and despite an official policy of neutrality towards the conflict in its larger neighbour, it has regularly seen the fighting spill over.

Kahwaji warned “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 told AFP.

In a sign of the dangers, clashes erupted in parts of the northern port city of Tripoli overnight and into Tuesday.

Gunmen clashed with soldiers in the Bab el-Tebbaneh district, where Sunni militants regularly fire on the army and their pro-Syrian regime neighbours in the Jabal Mohsen area.

The fighting killed a 12-year-old girl and injured 11 other people, seven of them soldiers hurt when gunmen attacked their bus.

The Arsal violence has left 16 soldiers dead and 85 wounded, while dozens of jihadists are said to have been killed, along with three civilians.

Another 22 soldiers are missing, possibly having been taken hostage.

The militants have also detained 20 policemen, three of whom were freed on Tuesday afternoon, police sources said.

The releases were reportedly part of negotiations for a ceasefire, but shelling resumed after they were freed.

The fighting started Saturday after the arrest of a Syrian man who the army said had confessed to being a member of Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate battling Assad’s forces.