Middle East

US pledges $120m in aid to Lebanese army

The United States will give the Lebanese army $120m more in aid to boost border security and counter-terrorism work, the US ambassador to Lebanon said on Wednesday.

Lebanon will get six MD 530G light attack helicopters, six Scan Eagle drones, and communication and night vision equipment under the new programmes, Ambassador Elizabeth Richard said after she met Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.

The United States has given the Lebanese Armed Forces more than $1.5bn in assistance over the past ten years, the embassy has said in the past.

Washington says it hopes to strengthen the Lebanese army to stop the spread of violence over the border from neighbouring Syria and help it become the sole military force defending the country.

Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group, which Washington regards as a terrorist organisation, is a powerful military force in the country and also fights in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad's government.

The group is a part of the Lebanese government.

US President Donald Trump has been vocal against what he calls Hezbollah’s threat to the Middle East.

"Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region," Trump said in a joint news conference with Hariri in Washington in July.

"The group continues to increase its military arsenal, which threatens to start yet another conflict with Israel… With the support of Iran, the organisation is also fuelling humanitarian catastrophe in Syria."

Washington has also accused Hezbollah of plotting attacks inside the US, a charge that the group has denied.

Hariri resigned last month – purportedly under Saudi pressure – in a speech he delivered from Riyadh. The move was seen as an escalation by Saudi Arabia against the Iran-backed movement.

However, Washington took a cautious approach and warned against turning Lebanon into a proxy for regional conflicts.

The prime minister rescinded his resignation three weeks later.

Israel, a close ally of the US, has claimed that the Lebanese army is controlled by Hezbollah.

"The Lebanese army has become an integral part of the Hezbollah apparatus under its command," Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman said in October.

Lebanon hosts around 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

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