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Lebanon clerics seek talks to end to Arsal clashes

Delegation of Sunni clerics enter eastern Lebanon's Arsal in a bid to negotiate end to clashes between the army and militants
Lebanese army forces move to Arsal district, Lebanon on August 5, 2014 (AA)

A delegation of Sunni clerics entered eastern Lebanon's Arsal Wednesday in a bid to negotiate an end to clashes between the army and militants.

A security source said a humanitarian ceasefire was in effect and expected to last until Wednesday evening, with reports that the quiet was intended to allow the talks to proceed and for the evacuation of the wounded and trapped civilians.

A resident told AFP many of the militants appeared to have withdrawn from its streets, though he said he could still see around 20 militants manning a checkpoint near his home.

Meanwhile, Lebanon appealed for Saudi-financed French arms, amid reports that Hezbollah fighters too have been involved in the shelling of Arsal.

Security sources said the army would only consider a deal under which the militants withdrew from Arsal and handed over 22 soldiers believed to have been captured.

At least 17 soldiers have been killed in the fighting, three of them officers, as well as at least three civilians.

On Wednesday afternoon, an AFP correspondent said ambulances were entering Arsal and a military truck had evacuated some civilians.

The fighting there is the most serious security incident on the Syrian border since the conflict began in the neighbouring country in March 2011.

Army chief General Jean Kahwaji has called for France to speed up delivery of weapons being purchased for the military by Saudi Arabia, under a $3 billion deal.

The deal was announced last December, but a list of the items to be provided under the agreement has not yet been finalised.

Saudi Arabia has also pledged an additional $1 billion in assistance, according to announcement Tuesday by Lebanon's former prime minister Saad Hariri.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil joined the chorus of calls for assistance on Wednesday.

"What we need is immediate and instant aid because we are in the battle," he said.

The fighting has raised fears about the stability of Lebanon, which is hosting more than one million refugees and has seen existing political and sectarian tensions heightened by its neighbour's war.

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