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US delivers missiles to Lebanon to defend Syria border

Hellfire missiles, laser-guided shells part of $8.6M package as Washington plans to double military aid to Beirut

An illustrative photo of a handover ceremony of US weapons to the Lebanese army at Beirut's port in Lebanon on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
An illustrative photo of a handover ceremony of US weapons to the Lebanese army at Beirut's port in Lebanon on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

The United States provided the Lebanese Armed Forces with laser-guided artillery shells and Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, according to a statement issued by the US Embassy in Beirut on Friday.

The high-tech munitions are part of a $8.6 million aid package intended to help the LAF defend the country’s eastern border from Sunni terrorists and other militias trying to breach the border from the Syrian side.

The aid package includes 50 Hellfire missiles and 560 artillery shells, including the “precision munitions,” according to the embassy statement.

A Lebanese military source told Reuters that the Hellfire missiles and 155 mm “smart artillery shells” have already been delivered to the LAF.

The American boost to the Lebanese army comes as Russia significantly increases its presence in Syria. Declaring its main goal as defeating Islamic State, Russian army warplanes have so far bombed dozens of targets in Syria, and according to Western officials, only a small proportion of the Russian assaults targeted Islamic State targets.

In a briefing Wednesday, a US State Department spokesman said a large majority of Russia’s military strikes in Syria have not been aimed at the Islamic State group or jihadists tied to al-Qaeda, and have instead targeted the moderate Syrian opposition.

“Greater than 90 percent of the strikes that we’ve seen them take to date have not been against ISIL or al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

“They’ve been largely against opposition groups that want a better future for Syria and don’t want to see the Assad regime stay in power.”

The US Embassy in Beirut’s statement on Friday said the munitions delivered to the LAF were meant to help the army “secure Lebanon’s borders against violent extremists,” but did not mention any terror group by name. It also made no mention of the recent Russian troop surge in Syria.

— AFP contributed to this report.

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