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Saudi Arabia to inject $3 billion into Lebanese army

By Susanna Capelouto, CNN
December 29, 2013 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
This file photo shows Lebanese Army soldiers on duty in eastern outskirts of Sidon, Lebanon.
This file photo shows Lebanese Army soldiers on duty in eastern outskirts of Sidon, Lebanon.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Lebanese army will get $3 billion from Saudi Arabia, says Lebanon state news agency
  • The money could buy weapons from France, according to a statement
  • Lebanon's army is not as well equipped as Hezbollah, which is headquartered in Lebanon
  • Hezbollah has been supporting Syrian government in civil war

(CNN) -- Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion to the Lebanese Army to strengthen its capabilities, according to Lebanon's state-run news agency.

Lebanon's President Gen. Michel Sleiman said the money will allow the army to buy weapons from France, and he expressed gratitude to Saudi Arabia, according to the statement.

"The Saudi aid to the Lebanese Army is the largest in the history of Lebanon," Sleiman said.

The announcement comes as French President Francois Hollande is in Saudi Arabia for talks on the crisis in the Mideast and to strengthen economic ties.

"I think a majority of Lebanese would support it -- they want a stronger army -- but it will be divisive. It will create political and ideological tensions," says Rami Khouri, an analyst with The Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper.

Lebanon is also home to Hezbollah, which is better equipped than Lebanon's army and has been supporting government forces in neighboring Syria's civil war.

"This is the Saudi's way of thinking they can challenge or weaken Hezbollah or Iran or Syria. This is what they do. They give money," Khouri says.

Tensions have been rising in Lebanon. On Friday a car bomb in Beirut killed former Lebanese finance minister Mohamad Chatah, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

Sleiman said in the statement that strengthening Lebanon's army is now critical.

"Lebanon is threatened by sectarian conflict and extremism," he said.

Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report.

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