BEIRUT: Russia has followed the United States and Britain Monday by pledging support to the Lebanese Army to reinforce its capacities to combat terrorism, with the Russian ambassador saying his country was considering unconditional assistance to the military.
Speaking after a meeting with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Russian envoy Alexander Zasypkin said: “We are exploring, with [Lebanese] officials, offering unconditional assistance to the Lebanese Army.”
Bassil said he has asked for Russia’s support to help the Army confront rampant terrorism, in reference to the showdown between troops and takfiri militants from Syria’s Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Arsal, on Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria earlier this month.
“We call for the complete liberation of Arsal [from militants],” Bassil said, stressing that “a security solution, not negotiations,” should be the only way to deal with armed groups.
At least 60 militants and 19 soldiers were killed in the five days of clashes, which erupted on Aug. 2 after militants overran Arsal. The militants pulled out a week later under an agreement brokered by the Committee of Muslim Scholars but took 29 captured security and Army personnel with them.
The militants have placed conditions to free the Lebanese personnel, including the release of militant leader Imad Ahmed Jomaa whose arrest by the Army had triggered the Arsal showdown, and other Islamist prisoners.
Answering reporters’ questions about demands made by Lebanese politicians to deploy international peacekeeping forces to help tighten security along the porous border with Syria, Zasypkin said that Russia sees “no need to expand UNIFIL’s mission to include the borders with Syria.”
US and British ambassadors in Lebanon have already vowed to extend military aid to the Army, including weapons and other equipment, to beef up its ability to curb terrorist action.