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US Official in Beirut, Warns Future Sanctions Will Hit Hezbollah Benefactors

US Official in Beirut, Warns Future Sanctions Will Hit Hezbollah Benefactors

Monday, 23 September, 2019 - 17:30
Lebanese PM Saad Hariri receives Treasury Department Assistant Secretary Marshall Billingslea in Beirut. (Dalati & Nohra)

A US official warned Lebanese politicians on Monday that future US sanctions would target any party suspected of providing "material" support to the Iran-backed Hezbollah, a Lebanese source told AFP.

Treasury Department Assistant Secretary Marshall Billingslea met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, as well as officials from the Association of Banks in Lebanon and Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh.

During the meetings, Billingslea warned that US sanctions may extend beyond direct affiliates of Hezbollah, according to a source present at talks.

"The US will sanction any group that provides material support to Hezbollah, be it through supplying weapons or money," the source quoted Billingslea as saying.

But sanctions "will not target groups who are only tied to Hezbollah politically," he added, easing concern that the group's political allies, including President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement and Berri's Amal Movement, could be targeted.

As well as maintaining a large paramilitary force that has fought both Syrian opposition factions and Israel, Hezbollah is a key political force in Lebanon.

Billingslea, who arrived in the country on Sunday for meetings with banking and government officials, aims to "encourage Lebanon to take the necessary steps to maintain distance" from the party, said a statement released by the US embassy in Beirut.

Salameh played down reports in local media that the US will impose further sanctions on the country's dollar-strapped banking system. He said Billingslea "is not coming here to squeeze Lebanon."

Hezbollah has been a US-designated terrorist group since 1997 and fights alongside the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad in the country's civil war.

Since US President Donald Trump took office, the US has tightened sanctions against the group as well launching a campaign of "maximum pressure" against its main external sponsor, Iran.

In early September, the group exchanged cross-border fire with Israel.

On September 12, Washington's Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs said future US sanctions could extend beyond the party.

"In the future, we will designate, because we have to, individuals in Lebanon who are aiding and assisting Hezbollah, regardless of what their sect or religion is," David Schenker told Lebanon's LBCI network.

Last month, the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Jammal Trust Bank and added it to its list of global terrorist organizations. The bank denied US charges about "knowingly facilitating banking activities" for Hezbollah.

The bank last week was forced to request self-liquidation and the move was accepted by the central bank governor.

In July, the Treasury Department targeted a Hezbollah security official and two members of Lebanon's parliament, saying they are suspected of using their positions to further the aims of the party and "bolster Iran's malign activities." It was the first time Washington targeted Hezbollah legislators.

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