BEIRUT: Italy will empower Lebanon’s Army and enhance the role of UNIFIL troops, the president of the Defense Commission of the Italian Senate said Tuesday, while pledging to support Lebanon in its struggle against terrorism.
The French presidency also announced one day before that Paris and Riyadh were close to signing a $3 billion arms deal for Lebanon.
“We sympathize with the families of the martyrs and the captives,” Italian Senator Nicola Latorre said after meeting with Defense Minister Samir Moqbel, referring to at least 24 troops held captive by jihadist groups on the border between Lebanon and Syria in the northeast.
“ Italy is committed to strengthen the Army because of Lebanon’s significance in the region.
“ Italy is also committed to fight terrorism and extremism with full energy and maximum efforts through the UNIFL force,” Latorre added, expressing his appreciation for the Lebanese Army’s values and performance.
Latorre arrived in Lebanon Tuesday, and met Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri earlier in the day. He is also expected to meet other Lebanese officials during his stay.
The Italian Ambassador to Lebanon Giuseppe Morabito accompanied Latorre during Tuesday’s visits.
Meanwhile, France and Saudi Arabia are close to signing a $3 billion arms deal for Lebanon, the Elysee Palace said Monday, following talks between President Francois Hollande and the Saudi crown prince.
“It will not be signed Monday but it is being finalized,” an aide to the president said.
The deal is for military equipment and arms that will be supplied to the Lebanese Army.
Hollande told an official dinner at the Elysee presidential palace attended by Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, who is also the Saudi deputy prime minister and defense minister, that Lebanon was a “great but vulnerable country” which “needs security.”
“We have come together, Saudi Arabia and France, to help Lebanon on the condition that it also helps itself, for its own security,” Hollande added, without commenting directly on the joint contract.
The deal comes as Lebanon faces the threat of jihadists on its border with Syria. More than 1 million refugees have fled the war in Syria by escaping to Lebanon, according to figures from the United Nations.
Hollande added that France and Saudi Arabia have a “shared priority of peace and security in the Middle East.”
This article was amended on Wednesday, September 03 2014
The article mistakenly mentioned that UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Luciano Portolano accompanied Senator Latorre during his visits to Lebanese politicians on Tuesday. In reality, Portolano did not attend any talks. The Daily Star regrets the error.