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U.S. supplying only light weapons as Lebanon faces Al Qaida offensive

NICOSIA Despite the Al Qaida offensive in the north, Lebanon continues to be denied major weapons systems by the United States.

Lebanon security sources said the Beirut government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has received mostly non-lethal equipment from the United States. The sources said this has included armored vehicles and anti-tank missiles.

"We need much more lethal systems if we want to fight the terrorists," a security source said. "So far, the U.S. military support has been marginal."

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On Friday, the Lebanese Army launched an offensive against the Al Qaida-aligned Fatah Al Islam, based in the Palestinian refugee camp of Naher Al Bared, Middle East Newsline reported. The army was said to have employed artillery, main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers at the northern edge of the camp.

In late May, the United States sent six cargo aircraft filled with light weapons, munitions and Humvee combat vehicles to battle at least 1,000 Al Qaida fighters supported by neighboring Syria. Much of the equipment was pledged by Washington in 2006 and meant to arrive in Lebanon in early 2007.

The sources said the Lebanese Army has sought heavy weapons and armored vehicles for an armored brigade and artillery battalion. The Siniora government has appealed to and received unidentified weapons from Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

The Bush administration allocated about $280 million in military aid to Lebanon in fiscal 2007. But security sources said the Defense Department has failed to honor its pledges to supply Humvees, night-vision goggles and Russian-origin weapons.

"We need the equipment now, not when the fighting is over," the source said.

The sources said Lebanon has been awaiting more than 250 rebuilt Humvees as part of a Bush administration decision to unblock $40 million of U.S. military aid meant for 2006. But they said the Pentagon has cited an equipment storage amid operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Lebanon's allies have also failed to respond to appeals for lethal systems. The UAE has supplied French-origin Gazelle attack helicopters without weapons systems. Belgium has failed to deliver the German-origin Leopard-1 main battle tanks and U.S.-origin M109 self-propelled artillery.

"There is a general feeling abroad that the [Lebanese] military remains unreliable, and that lethal weapons could be seized by Hizbullah and other elements," the source said.

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