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Tuesday August 20th, 2019 3:31AM

The Latest: Tillerson: Kurds never got heavy weapons from US

By The Associated Press
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BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to Lebanon (all times local):

3:55 p.m.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. has "never" given the Syrian Kurdish militia heavy weapons.

Tillerson, speaking in Beirut before his visit to Turkey, was responding to a question about taking back heavy arms from the Kurdish militia, known as the People's Defense Units or the YPG. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist group. The YPG is the main U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State militants.

"We have never given heavy arms to the YPG so there is none to take back," Tillerson said.

Tillerson is leaving Lebanon for Turkey.

Washington's program to arm the YPG has been a sharply divisive issue with Turkey. Turkish officials say U.S. President Donald Trump told them that the militia will receive no more arms. The White House called it "adjustment to the military support" to the group.

___

3:25 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the administration is working to ensure Lebanon's southern borders remain calm amid tension with Israel over gas drilling rights.

Tillerson said Thursday: "if an agreement" between Israel and Lebanon can be reached over drilling rights, it will help Lebanon and neighboring countries to prosper for years to come.

Tillerson is in Lebanon amid a growing dispute between Lebanon and its southern neighbor, Israel, over oil and gas reserves, and Israel's construction of a border wall that Lebanon says encroaches on its territory.

Israel has recently escalated its threats over Lebanon's invitation for offshore gas exploration bids along the countries' maritime border claiming that Lebanon will be drilling in areas owned by Israel. Lebanese officials deny the Israeli statements, saying the area where the country plans to drill belongs to Lebanon.

___

3 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is urging Hezbollah to cease its activities abroad to help reduce tensions in the region.

Tillerson says it us unacceptable for a militia like Hezbollah to operate outside the authority of the Lebanese government.

He spoke Thursday at a joint press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, an ally of the West who is at odds with Hezbollah. Earlier in the day, he met with key allies of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group including the president and parliament speaker.

Tillerson said Hezbollah's engagement in Syria has "perpetuated the bloodshed" in that country and threatens the security of Lebanon.

___

1:55 p.m.

Lebanon's president says he has asked visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to work on preventing ongoing Israeli violations of its sovereignty.

President Michel Aoun made the comments during a meeting with Tillerson at the presidential palace on Thursday. According to Aoun's office, he also told Tillerson that Lebanon rejects Israeli claims over parts of the countries' maritime border where Lebanon will be drilling for oil and gas.

Tillerson arrived in the Lebanese capital earlier in the day as part of a regional tour.

The visit coincides with heightened tensions between Lebanon and its southern neighbor over oil and gas reserves and Israel's construction of a border wall that Lebanon says encroaches on its territory.

Lebanon is also protesting Israeli violations of Israeli airspace, often to bomb targets inside neighboring Syria.

___

10:15 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has arrived in Lebanon, the most senior official from the Trump administration to visit the small Mediterranean country.

Tillerson is expected to meet with the country's top leaders Thursday — including President Michel Aoun, a key ally of the militant Hezbollah group — and discuss Lebanon's gas and border dispute with Israel.

Israel has recently escalated its threats over Lebanon's invitation for offshore gas exploration bids along the countries' maritime border.

Israel claims that Lebanon will be drilling in areas owned by Israel. Lebanese officials contest those claims, saying the area where it plans to drill belongs to Lebanon.

The long-standing dispute resurfaced recently as Lebanon invited companies to sign exploration deals. U.S. officials have previously tried to mediate the dispute.

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