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Saudi Arabia halts aid to Lebanon

February 19, 2016

Riyadh has suspended two massive aid packages to the Lebanese army and police, after Beirut declined to support anti-Iran resolutions proposed by the Saudis. Lebanon is a base for Shiite Hezbollah militia.

Libanon Soldaten Beirut
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Amro

Saudi authorities are halting a deal worth $3 billion (2.7 billion euro) to arm the Lebanese army with French-made weapons, the Riyadh government announced on Friday.

A separate $1 billion package to support Lebanon's police force was also canceled.

Saudi Arabia said the reason for the decision was Lebanon's "non-condemnation of the blatant attacks against the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its Consulate-General in Mashhad," which prompted the oil-rich kingdom to cut diplomatic ties with Iran.

The surprise announcement, carried by the Saudi SPA agency, also described the Lebanese stance as "regrettable and unjustified" and "inconsistent with the fraternal relations between the two countries."

A country divided

The ongoing conflict between Tehran and Riyadh reflects an ancient rift between Islamic factions, with Iran dominated by Shiite and Saudi Arabia by Sunni Muslims.

Lebanon, however, is comprised of numerous religious groups, including both the Shiites and the Sunnis, as well as Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Additionally, the Shiite population maintains the powerful Hezbollah militia which is backed by Iran.

Hezbollah is currently fighting in Syria on the side of the regime forces.

Weapons coming in

The tense relations between the religious groups have been additionally strained by the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran and the Syrian civil war.

The Lebanese army, however, serves as unifying factor in the country and recruits its members from all confessions. At the same time, observers agree that government troops cannot match Hezbollah's military power.

The late Saudi King Abdullah announced the initiative to aid the Lebanese troops in late 2013 and Beirut has already received some of the weapons. They include 48 modern anti-tank missiles delivered last year.

The deal also included French-made armored vehicles, helicopters, drones, and artillery aimed to ensure stability in the country weakened by internal divisions.

dj/jm (AP, Reuters, AFP)