Russia to provide free military assistance to Lebanon

Announcement comes as army aid to Lebanon under scrutiny after US lawmakers demanded assurances that weapons won't go to Hizbullah.

Hariri Putin 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Hariri Putin 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
BEIRUT -- Russia will provide the Lebanese army with free helicopters, tanks and munitions in a deal that will boost the country's poorly equipped military, officials said Tuesday.
The announcement came at a time when military assistance to Lebanon is under scrutiny after US lawmakers demanded assurances that American aid will not fall into the hands of Hizbullah.
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Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the Russian aid includes six helicopters, 31 tanks, 130 mm caliber cannon shells and about half a million different munitions for medium sized weapons and artillery shells. The statement, which followed Hariri's talks in Moscow with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, did not say when the aid would be delivered.
“We also see that military and security relations are very important, as well as military exchanges and training. We thank you for all the support you have granted Lebanon in this area,” Hariri told Putin, according to Lebanon's Daily Star.
Hariri also praised Russia’s role regarding the Middle East conflict.
“We believe that Russia’s role is major and your historical positions in support of the Palestinian cause and the Arabs, as well as your support to the international resolutions related to these issues, were fair. Russia has always been the party that sees the problem from two sides...we hope that your role in this process will become stronger, because the region needs Russia’s role … We must put an end to Israeli continuous intransigence, because the region does not tolerate all this extremism that exists in it,” Hariri said.
Lebanon's 60,000-strong military has long been poorly equipped and has virtually no air force - except for about 30 unarmed helicopters and several 1950s-era British-made Hawker Hunter jets - and no effective air defense system.
The news about the Russian aid came just days after two key members of the US Congress released their holds on $100 million in US military aid to the Lebanese army.
The lawmakers suspended the aid on Aug. 2 amid growing concern in Congress that American-supplied weapons could threaten Israel and that Hizbullah may have influence over the army.