Lebanon receives first shipment of $3B worth of French weapons paid for by Saudi Arabia

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BEIRUT — Lebanon received the first installment of $3 billion worth of French weapons paid for by Saudi Arabia on Monday, part of a four-year plan to help arm Beirut in its battle against jihadi groups.

The handover ceremony held at Beirut's international airport was attended by Lebanese and French defense ministers and top army officers.

The deal aims to boost Lebanon's military as it struggles to contain a rising tide of violence linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the deal will include dozens of armored vehicles, six transport helicopters and other types of weapons. He added that the next shipment will arrive in May.

The deal also includes training programs for Lebanese troops run by the French military.

"Lebanon's victory against terrorism is a victory to all nations threatened by terrorism," Lebanese Defense Minister Samir Moqbel said.

A Lebanese army general told reporters that Monday's shipment included modern anti-tank guided Milan missiles, saying they will be a "turning point" in the army's performance.

The Lebanese army has been fighting members of the Islamic State group and Syria's al-Qaida branch, the Nusra Front, mostly in areas on the border with Syria.

In August, militants crossed from Syria into the Lebanese border town of Arsal, capturing more than 20 soldiers and police officer. Islamic State and Nusra Front militants have killed four of the captives and still hold the rest.

"The Lebanese army paid a high price in Arsal and France helped and will help Lebanon so that it does not slip into chaos," Le Drian said.

Lebanon announced the surprise $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia in December 2013. Since then, Riyadh's regional rival, Iran, also has said it is ready to provide aid to the Lebanese army. Many Lebanese view these offers as part of a competition for influence over their tiny country, which is riven by sectarian fissures.

The Lebanese army is generally seen as a unifying force in Lebanon, and draws its ranks from all of the country's sects.

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