Qatar to support Lebanese soldiers' salaries with $60 million pledge

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DOHA/BEIRUT, June 30 (Reuters) - Qatar has pledged $60 million to the Lebanese army, state news agency QNA said on Thursday, funding that is earmarked to support the salaries of Lebanese soldiers, two sources briefed on the deal told Reuters.

The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) said the package was intended "to support members of the army" but did not specifically mention salaries. The Qatari government did not have any immediate comment.

Discontent has been brewing in the security forces as Lebanon's currency has lost more than 90% of its value against the dollar, driving down most soldiers' wages to less than $100 per month.

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"The funding is specifically earmarked to support soldiers salaries. It will provide support for a period of time with the goal of stabilizing the situation," one of the sources said.

Aram Nerguizian, a senior military adviser at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said "it is the intention of the LAF to deploy the full amount of the Qatari grant to enable a $100 cost-of-living adjustment per LAF household over the next six-to-seven months."

The hope is that the Qatari grant would open the door for at least $50 million in U.S. funding as well as other sources of support to bolster the army to the end of the year, Nerguizian said.

Lebanon's financial crisis has gutted public sector salaries and the amount paid to soldiers is barely enough to afford a basic subscription to a generator service that could offset the 22-hour cuts in the state electricity grid.

The army's canteen stopped offering meat to troops in 2020 to save money. The following year, it began offering sightseeing tours in its helicopters to raise funds.

To supplement their low salaries, many troops have taken extra jobs and some have quit, raising concerns that the institution - one of few in Lebanon that can rally national pride and create unity across its fractured sectarian communities - could be fraying.

At the start of Lebanon's civil war in the 1970s, fissures along sectarian lines in the army helped fuel a descent into militia rule.

Qatar's foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani met with Lebanese president Michel Aoun on Thursday, the ministry said in a statement.

He also met with LAF commander General Joseph Aoun.

Qatar has provided the Lebanese military with 70 tons of food each month since last summer, but Thursday's announcement is the first time it has pledged cash funding in the current crisis.

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Reporting by Andrew Mills, Maya Gebeily and Lina Najem; Editing by Toby Chopra and Grant McCool

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