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Lebanon leader says his country to get Russian military aid

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Nov 16, 2010
Russia will offer Lebanon six combat helicopters, 31 tanks and 36 artillery pieces complete with ammunition and shells, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced late Monday from Moscow.

"After the end of discussions between the Lebanese and Russian sides, Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced that Russia had decided to offer free aid to the Lebanese army," said a statement from Hariri's office.

The offer included "six Mi-24 helicopters, 31 T-72 assault tanks," as well as 36 mortars for 130-mm shells and around half million rounds of medium-calibre ammunition, the statement added.

In February, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman announced during a visit to Moscow that Russia had agreed to a request for Mi-24 helicopter gunships instead of the MIG-29 fighter jets originally promised in 2008.

On Sunday, on the eve of his two-day visit, Hariri had said he hoped to finalise that deal and said Lebanese helicopter pilots were already training for the new aircraft.

Following the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah the poorly equipped Lebanese army deployed in the south of the country for the first in three decades.

Earlier Monday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called on Lebanon to support Russian companies seeking to invest there, during his talks with Hariri.

"We have good possibilities to increase our economic collaboration thanks to major joint projects in the fields of energy, transport, communication and military technology co-operation," Putin said, Russian news agencies reported.

"In certain cases our big companies announced they would participate in invitations to tender and we ask you to support these bids," he added.

Hariri said his government welcomed Russian investment in transport and energy and in the construction of railways and dams.

Some analysts see the continuing rapprochement between the two countries as an attempt by Russia to reassert its influence in the Middle East, which has waned since the Soviet era.

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