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Lebanon Requests More US Aid Amid Tripoli Fighting

22 May 2007

The State Department says the Lebanese government has asked the United States for additional military aid amid the fighting between its forces and Islamic militants near the northern port city of Tripoli. U.S. security aid to Lebanon has increased sharply in recent years. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here won't say how much, or what kind of new aid the Lebanese government is seeking. But they say an emergency request is under consideration, and that any new help would be in addition to the more than $300 million in U.S. military aid either delivered or committed to Lebanon since last year.

Lebanon's relatively-small national army has been engaged since Sunday in bitter clashes with militants of the al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Islam group in a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli.

It is being described as the worst fighting involving only Lebanese-based forces since the country's civil war in the 1980's.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said that the conflict was not between Lebanese forces and mainstream Palestinians, but rather with extremists who have insinuated themselves into the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp:

"I see a lot of headlines about the fighting being between the Lebanese government and a Palestinian refugee camp. Let's be clear. This is a separate and violent extremist group that has embedded itself in that refugee camp. It is a group that is affiliated with al-Qaeda. The leader of this group was tried in absentia in Jordan for the [2002] murder of American diplomat Laurence Foley. So this is a very,very brutal group of people that the Lebanese armed forces are dealing with," he said.

The United States provided Lebanon with $40 million in military aid last year, most of it for vehicles, training and equipment to help the government reassert control over its territory after the Syrian troop withdrawal in 2005 and last year's conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

The Bush administration has asked for an additional $280 million in military for Lebanon aid this year. But it is part of aid much larger supplemental request for Iraq war spending that is tied up in Congress and unlikely to be delivered soon.

Officials here say an emergency aid allocation for Lebanon, if granted, might be taken from other aid accounts and might not require approval by the full Congress.

In comments at a photo session with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States is very supportive of the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, which she said is trying to protect its population and sovereignty from what she termed a tough extremist foe.

Some news reports have suggested that Fatah al-Islam may have staged the uprising at the impetus of Syria, which wants to impede efforts in the U.N. Security Council to set up a tribunal on the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in which Syrian officials have been implicated.

Officials here and at the White House stopped short of directly blaming Syria for the unrest. But White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the United States will not tolerate attempts by Syria, terrorist groups or any others to delay or derail efforts by Lebanon to solidify its sovereignty, or to seek justice in the Hariri case.

In his remarks here, Spokesman McCormack said efforts in the U.N. Security Council to set up the tribunal are moving ahead with some energy and that action on the issue can be expected within the next week or two.

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