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French defense chief in Lebanon, pledges more support to military

Sebastien Lecornu's visit came two weeks following the killing of an Irish UNIFIL soldier as his convoy came under attack. A suspect is now in custody
The flags of (front to back) France and Lebanon fly near the damaged grain silos at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut on July 14, 2021, almost a year after the August 4 massive explosion that killed more than 200 people and injured scores of others. (Photo by PATRICK BAZ/AFP via Getty Images)

French defense minister Sebastien Lecornu concluded a two-day-visit to Beirut on Tuesday in which he met Lebanese counterpart Maurice Sleem, and offered support to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) during Beirut's financial crisis and presidential vacuum.

The meeting also included Anne Grillo, the French ambassador to Lebanon. The delegation conveyed a message from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a program of military cooperation between the two countries and boost support to the Lebanese Army, Lebanon's national news agency reported. 

France has been among the main supporters of the Lebanese army and has launched previous initiatives to ramp up aid amid the country’s worsening economic and political crisis. In 2018, France provided $17 million worth of aid to the Lebanese army, Reuters reported. 

During his visit, Lecornu stressed the importance of electing a president and referred to an incident on Saturday when a boat carrying migrants capsized on Lebanon’s northern coast, killing two while 200 others were rescued. It was carrying refugees from Syria and 50 Lebanese. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon [UNIFIL] confirmed in a tweet its role alongside the Lebanese army in the rescue mission.

“UNIFIL Maritime Task Force is assisting Lebanese Navy in search and rescue operation at sea between Beirut & Tripoli where a boat in distress with a large number of people on board was found. Our Indonesian and Greek ships are on the scene. We will continue to provide assistance” said the tweet.

The French defense chief also visited the site of the port blast in Beirut.

Lecornu came to Lebanon to spend New Year’s Eve with the UNIFIL French peacekeepers. Deployed in 1978, the force stationed at the borders with Israel oversees the ceasefire between the two countries. Of the 11,000 personnel, 658 are French.  

His visit came two weeks following the death of an Irish UNIFIL soldier whose convoy came under attack. A suspect is now in custody. About 325 UNIFIL soldiers have been killed since their deployment, according to data provided by the United Nations.

Lecornu also met with Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and with Lebanese Army Commander Joseph Aoun, when Lecornu stressed French support to the LAF.

Amid Lebanon's economic and political deadlock, Macron has openly accused Lebanese leaders of lacking the political will to finalize a deal with the International Monetary Fund. The country is also facing its biggest immigration wave as its citizens take desperate measures to flee the country. 

Macron has previously made it clear that Lebanon must change its political leadership in order to break the cycle of economic collapse and launch the needed reforms and restructuring.

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