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US lawmaker unfreezes $100 mln aid for Lebanese army

Berman releases money following review of aid program

A key U.S. lawmaker lifted his hold Friday on $100 million in U.S. military aid to Lebanon, saying he was reassured Lebanese troops would try to prevent flare-ups along the border with Israel.

Howard Berman, the Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was releasing some $100 million in aid to Lebanon's army following a U.S. review of the aid program and safeguards by the Lebanese Armed Forces, or LAF.

"As a result of these assurances, I am lifting the hold on the $100 million spending plan for the LAF."

"I am convinced that implementation of the spending plan will now have greater focus, and I am re-assured as to the nature and purposes of the proposed package," Berman said, noting he had been fully briefed about the review.

The State Department had voiced strong support for the continuation of the military aid, which it said was in the interest of both the United States and Lebanon.

Berman and fellow Democrat Nita Lowey placed the hold on the assistance package after an Aug. 3 clash that killed two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist and a senior Israeli officer in a cross-border skirmish that marked the worst such violence since a 2006 war between Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas.

A spokesman for Lowey confirmed that she also dropped her hold.

Lebanese Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri is also in a standoff with Hezbollah over a U.N.-backed probe into the assassination of his father, former premier Rafiq Hariri.

"I continue to be concerned about developments in Lebanon, and I will continue my ongoing discussions with State (Department) regarding the optimal contours of future military assistance for Lebanon," Berman said.

I am convinced that implementation of the spending plan will now have greater focus, and I am re-assured as to the nature and purposes of the proposed package

US Lawmaker Howard Berman

Reassurances

The California Democratic representative said he had received reassurances that U.S. assistance to the Lebanese armed force has not fallen into the hands of Hezbollah, and Lebanese and U.S. authorities were working to ensure that would not happen.

He noted that the Lebanese military has taken "important steps to prevent recurrence of dangerous and provocative actions."

The U.S. administration has argued that the aid is intended to act as a counterweight to Hezbollah influence, and if the United States should withdraw its support, Iran or Syria might step in to fill the vacuum.

In an interview with Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Lebanese people "deserve lasting peace and an end to political violence once and for all."

"The United States is committed to that goal, and we will continue supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces to ensure they have the capacity to protect Lebanon’s security from threats both internal and external," she added.

She also expressed disappointment with actions taken by neighboring Syria, saying it pursues policies "outside established international norms" and vowing to hold the country "accountable" for its behavior.

The United States has accused Syria of illicitly arming Hezbollah and other militias and showing "flagrant disregard" for the country's independence, charges Damascus has rejected.