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US puts Hezbollah lawmakers on sanctions blacklist for first time

Updated July 10, 2019

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The US Treasury placed two Hezbollah members of Lebanon’s parliament on its sanctions blacklist on Tuesday — the first time Washington has taken aim at the Iran-allied group’s elected politicians. — AFP/File
The US Treasury placed two Hezbollah members of Lebanon’s parliament on its sanctions blacklist on Tuesday — the first time Washington has taken aim at the Iran-allied group’s elected politicians. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: The US Treasury placed two Hezbollah members of Lebanon’s parliament on its sanctions blacklist on Tuesday — the first time Washington has taken aim at the Iran-allied group’s elected politicians.

Stepping up its effort to build global pressure on the powerful Lebanese Shia movement, the Treasury named MPs Amin Sherri and Muhammad Hasan Raad to a terror-related blacklist, saying that Hezbollah uses its parliamentary power to advance its alleged violent activities.

Also placed on the blacklist was Wafiq Safa, a top Hezbollah official close to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.

“Hezbollah uses its operatives in Lebanon’s parliament to manipulate institutions in support of the terrorist group’s financial and security interests, and to bolster Iran’s malign activities,” said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

The move came as the US bolsters pressure on Iran and its alleged “proxies” in the Middle East, including Hezbollah, which Washington has officially designated a “terrorist group”.

However, officials stopped short of a threatened sanctions action against Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

On June 24, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Zarif would be added to the sanctions list “later this week,” amid rising tensions in the Gulf and Tehran’s move to break its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal.

A senior administration official who insisted on anonymity would not confirm any plan to blacklist Zarif, who was crucial in achieving the landmark deal.

“We are obviously exploring ... various avenues for additional sanctions on Tehran. Obviously Foreign Minister Zarif is a figure of key interest,” she said.

It was the first time the US Treasury had placed Hezbollah lawmakers on its blacklist, which forbids US individuals and businesses with a US branch — including leading international banks — from doing business with those sanctioned.

With the electoral backing of many Lebanese Shias, Hezbollah won 13 seats out of 128 in the May 6, 2018 general election. Eventually it joined a coalition government formed on Jan 31, 2019, gaining control of two ministries.

But Washington says it will not regard the group’s political and militia activities as separate from one another.

“It is time, we believe, for other nations around the world to recognise that there is no distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wing,” the senior US administration official said.

“To any member of Hezbollah considering running for office, know that you will not be able to hide beneath the cover of political office,” she said.

The newest sanctions brought to 50 the number of Hezbollah individuals and entities blacklisted by the Treasury since 2017.

They have included bankers and businessmen that Washington says are deeply involved in Hezbollah business activities around the world, allegedly including narcotics trafficking and gun-running.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2019