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French foreign minister visits Lebanon in show of support

Associated Press logo Associated Press 22/12/2016
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, arrives to meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, at the Government House in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. Ayrault is in Beirut to meet with Lebanese officials. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein) © The Associated Press French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, arrives to meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, at the Government House in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. Ayrault is in Beirut to meet with Lebanese officials. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT — The French foreign minister expressed support Thursday for Lebanon's efforts to battle terrorism and host refugees during a visit to Beirut.

Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Saad Hariri that France will stand by Lebanon as it seeks to contain the fallout from the war in neighboring Syria.

France is a strong supporter of Lebanon's army, which is fighting the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's Syrian branch in border areas. Both countries have been hit by a wave of terror attacks that killed scores of people over the past two years.

Lebanon is also home to some 1.2 million refugees, around a quarter of the country's population. Ayrault said France has given Lebanon 105 million euros ($110 million) to help it cope with the influx.

President Michel Aoun told Ayrault that the most suitable solution would be the eventual return of Syrian refugees to their home country.

A statement issued by Aoun's office said Ayrault formally invited him to visit France, but did provide any further details.

France, Lebanon's former colonial power, remains a major player in Lebanese politics.

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