x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

GCC sets up panels for Hizbollah sanctions

GCC forms panels to oversee sanctions against Lebanese Shiite movement's interests in the region, as a penalty for the group's involvement in Syria. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

ABU DHABI // GCC officials yesterday formed panels to oversee sanctions against Hizbollah's interests in the region, as a penalty for the group's involvement in Syria.

The meeting of interior ministry officials in Riyadh focused on targeting the "residency, financial transactions and trade" of individuals associated with or backing the Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbollah.

Hizbollah said in May that its fighters had joined Syria's conflict to fight for the president, Bashar Al Assad. They have since proven decisive in battles for key cities such as Al Qusayr, near the Lebanese border.

Hizbollah's involvement in the Syrian crisis has raised the regional stakes of the conflict in many Arabian Gulf capitals, where there is growing concern over Iranian influence in the region. The militia is backed by Tehran, Mr Al Assad's staunchest regional ally.

The GCC announced on June 10 that it planned to introduce sanctions against Hizbollah but did decide upon specifics.

The Bahraini deputy interior minister, Khaled Al Absi, said at yesterday's summit that two teams would be formed, one to "coordinate with central banks" and the second to review "legal, administrative and financial matters" linked to the sanctions.

The sanctions would be implemented "in coordination... with ministers of commerce and the central banks of the GCC", Abdullatif Al Zayani, the GCC's secretary general, said recently.

Mr Al Absi said the decision to implement sanctions against Hizbollah was taken "after the discovery in GCC states of several terrorist cells linked to the group", though he did not provide details.

"Iran's presence in Lebanon and Syria now constitutes a clear threat to Saudi Arabia's national security," wrote Jamal Kashoggi, a commentator, last month in an article for the Saudi broadcaster, Al Arabiya, warning of an "expanding Shiite crescent".

The developments represent a broad shift in relations with Hizbollah, which previously drew wide regional sympathy in its repeated confrontations with Israel.

But the decision to join the conflict in support of Mr Al Assad had solidified perceptions across the Gulf that Hizbollah's motives were sectarian.

"Hizbollah had a lot of fans throughout the Arab world, in spite of sectarian differences and the question of Iran, in much of the Arab world including the Gulf, until the Arab uprisings brought the sectarian schisms to the fore," said Hussein Ibish, columnist for the news site NOW Lebanon.

This week, The Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper, quoted the Saudi ambassador, Ali Awad Asiri, as saying that Hizbollah should "reconsider its policy towards the Sunni sect and other sects".

The precise impact of the GCC sanctions against Hizbollah is not yet clear.

Bahrain has led Gulf states in implementing punitive measures, including listing the group as a terrorist organisation and prohibiting its citizens from contacting Hizbollah.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have both reportedly expelled small numbers of Lebanese expatriates for their alleged connections to the group. About 360,000 Lebanese expatriates work in the Gulf, the Lebanese daily An-Nahar newspaper reported, remitting Dh14.69 billion each year.

edickinson@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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