US shipload of weapons, ammunition for Lebanese army worth $25 million lands in Beirut

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BEIRUT — The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon said Sunday that $25 million worth of weapons and ammunition have arrived in Beirut, the latest American assistance to Lebanon's army as it fights Islamic extremists along the border with Syria.

Ambassador David Hale said the equipment includes more than 70 M198 howitzers and over 26 million rounds of ammunition and artillery "of all shapes and sizes, including heavy artillery."

Islamic extremists have launched several attacks on Lebanese troops over the past months in areas near the Syrian border, killing and wounding scores of troops. The most serious attack occurred in August, when members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State group captured two dozen Lebanese soldiers. They have killed four of them and still hold the rest.

Lebanese and American officials attended a handover ceremony Sunday at Beirut's port.

"We are very proud of this and this is top-of-the-line equipment. This is the best that there is in the marketplace. It's what our soldiers use," Hale said. "I know that in a matter of days it's going to be what your brave soldiers are using in the battle to defeat terrorism and extremism that is pouring across the border from Syria."

Hale told reporters that Lebanon has become the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance. He added that weapons worth more than $100 million were given to Lebanon last year and over a $1 billion worth in the last eight years.

He said the U.S. help to Lebanon will continue "until the job is done."

The Lebanese military is generally seen as a unifying force in Lebanon, and draws its ranks from all of the country's sects — Sunni and Shiite Muslim, Christian and Druze. But the armed forces have struggled to contain the escalating violence in the country.

This is the latest aid promised to Lebanon. In November, France and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement for Paris to provide the Lebanese army with $3 billion worth of weapons paid for by Riyadh. The first shipment of those weapons is expected to arrive in April.

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