French army minister to visit Lebanon amid rising regional tensions

PARIS (Reuters) – Sebastien Lecornu, France’s minister of the armed forces, will meet with officials in Lebanon from Wednesday, including caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, as well as visit a base of United Nations peacekeepers, his cabinet announced on Sunday.

The trip comes amid rising border tensions between the crisis-shaken Arab country and its southern neighbour Israel since the start of the Gaza conflict earlier this month.

The minister seeks to reaffirm France’s “commitment to the stability of Lebanon”, his office told news agency AFP in a statement later confirmed to Reuters by his spokesperson.

On Thursday, Lecornu will visit the United Nations peacekeeping force UNIFIL, which on Saturday saw its headquarters near the Lebanese coastal town of Naqoura damaged by a shell that landed inside the base.

France is one of the main contributors to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, where it has deployed nearly 700 troops.

The Israeli army and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon have exchanged fire daily since early October.

Lebanon and France, its former colonial power, are linked through numerous political and economic ties.

French President Emmanuel Macron led international aid efforts after an explosion that killed more than 200 people in Beirut in 2019, but his efforts afterwards failed to resolve the political and economic crisis that followed.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel)