Lebanon speaker says US sanctions on Hezbollah are 'assault' on country
Hezbollah ally Nabih Berri speaks out after Washington blacklisted two MPs and a security official
US sanctions against Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia and political party, were an attack on the country, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said on Wednesday.
The US Treasury on Tuesday imposed sanctions on the Iran-backed group’s representatives in parliament, MPs Amin Sherri and Mohammad Raad, and Wafiq Safa, who liaises with Lebanon’s security agencies.
“It is an assault on the Parliament and as a result an assault on all of Lebanon,” said Mr Berri, an ally of the group.
It is the first time the US Treasury has put Lebanese MPs on a sanctions list for supporting terrorist organisations.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the penalties were part of efforts to counter Hezbollah’s “corrupting influence” in Lebanon.
Hezbollah, which Washington has classified as a terrorist group, is a heavily armed political and military movement that holds major influence in Lebanon.
Hezbollah and its allies won a majority in 2018 elections and the group has three Cabinet seats, the largest number it has ever controlled.
The group, founded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the 1980s, is also among the most effective armed groups in the region and has fought several wars with neighbouring Israel. Lebanon is still technically at war with Israel.
Lebanon’s dollar-denominated sovereign bonds fell and the cost of insuring exposure to its debt rose on Wednesday after the sanctions.
“These sanctions are unwarranted and do not serve financial stability,” Finance Minister Ali Khalil, a senior Berri aide, said on Tuesday night.
“Lebanon and its banks are committed to all the legislation and there is no justification at all for escalating these sanctions.”
The move was “an insult to the Lebanese people” and a blow to the country’s sovereignty, Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad told Al Jadeed TV.
But Washington said the group’s political and military activities were inseparable.
Mr Raad, 64, is the head of the parliamentary bloc of the party and has been an MP since 1992. Mr Sherri, 62, is a 17-year Hezbollah veteran of Parliament, representing Beirut.
Mr Safa, the Treasury said, maintained the group’s ties to financiers and was said to help arrange the smuggling of weapons and drugs.
The action by the US Treasury bars US citizens from dealing with the three and blocks any assets they may hold in the US. It also limits their ability to access the US financial system.
A Trump administration official said the US wanted the designations to have a “chilling effect” on anyone who did business with Hezbollah.
“The message is that the rest of the Lebanese government needs to sever its dealings with these figures that we’re designating today,” a State Department official said.
Updated: July 11, 2019 12:07 AM