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Saudi Arabia offers $1bn to Lebanon in apparent end to protests over Hezbollah

Riyadh's offer comes two years after pulling a similar amount in protest at Hezbollah's military support for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad
A Lebanese fleg held amid a sea of Hezbollah banners in Beirut (AFP)

Saudi Arabia has offered a $1bn credit line to Lebanon, two years after cancelling a similar amount of aid in protest at Hezbollah's military support for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

Lebanon said on Friday that Riyadh had made the money available during a funding drive in Paris that had raised a total of billions of dollars in loans and grants to support the economy.

Nadim Minia, a senior adviser to the Lebanese prime minister, said the total included the $1bn renewal of the Saudi Arabian credit line.

Saudi Arabia in February 2016 said it was cancelling all aid to Lebanon, including $3bn of loans for its national military and the suspension of the $1bn credit line offered to boost internal security.

Riyadh said it had carried out to "a total evaluation of its relations with the Lebanese republic" in light of positions taken by Hezbollah in Syria.

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But the reinstatement of a credit line on Friday appears to suggest Riyadh is attempting to rebuild relations, after a series of rows and the brief alleged house arrest of the Lebanese prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, and his forced "resignation" while in Riyadh.

Hariri was later released, flew back to Beirut, and reneged on his resignation.

On Friday, Hariri said the funding by international donors was crucial to his country's flagging economy, which has struggled to grow due to the effects of the Syrian war on its economy and population.

Lebanon, which is hosting more than a million Syrian refugees, needs support for economic reforms and an anti-corruption drive, he told the conference.

"In this effort, Lebanon cannot succeed alone," Hariri said. "It needs the support of the international community," he said, calling for "a clear and concrete indication of this support in the form of grants and concessional loans".

The Paris conference, convening 50 countries and organisations, including Saudi Arabia, United States, Russia and Qatar, is expected to set up a follow-up mechanism to track progress towards reform.

Lebanon won aid pledges exceeding $11bn at the conference, French President Emmanuel Macron said.

The pledges include $10.2bn in loans and $860mn in grants, France's ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher said on Twitter.

The International Monetary Fund said in February that Lebanon's fiscal policy needed a consolidation plan that stabilised debt and then began to reduce it.

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