US puts Hizbullah lawmakers on sanctions blacklist for first time



This combination of pictures created on July 10th shows file photos of Lebanese Hizbullah MPs Muhammad Hasan Raad (left) addressing the media in Beirut on September 24th, 2008 and Amin Sherri (right) attending a meeting in Beirut on September 18th, 2010, as well as top Hizbullah official Wafiq Safa (centre) at Beirut airport on July 16th, 2008.  [Hassan Ibrahim, Anwar Amro, Joseph Barrak/AFP]

The US Treasury placed two Hizbullah members of Lebanon's parliament on its sanctions blacklist on Tuesday (July 9th) -- the first time Washington has taken aim at the Iran-allied group's elected politicians.

Stepping up its effort to build global pressure on Hizbullah, the Treasury named MPs Amin Sherri and Muhammad Hasan Raad to a terror-related blacklist, saying the party uses its parliamentary power to advance violent activities.

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

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US targeted three officials "who leverage their positions to facilitate Hizbullah and the Iranian regime's malign efforts to undermine Lebanese sovereignty".

"Any distinction between Hizbullah's political and military wings is artificial," he said. "We call on our allies and partners to designate Hizbullah in its entirety as a terrorist organisation."

Pompeo tied the action to the US "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran and its proxies in the Middle East, including Hizbullah, which Washington has officially designated a "terrorist group".

It is the first time the US Treasury has placed Hizbullah lawmakers on its blacklist, which forbids US individuals and businesses with a US branch -- including international banks -- from doing business with those sanctioned.

Political, military wings not separate

Hizbullah won 13 seats out of 128 in Lebanon's May 6th, 2018 general election, and joined a coalition government formed January 31st, gaining control of three ministries.

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

"It is time, we believe, for other nations around the world to recognize that there is no distinction between Hizbullah's political and military wing," said a senior US administration official who insisted on anonymity.

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

Raad, 64, is the head of the party's parliamentary bloc and an MP since 1992.

Sherri, 62, is a 17-year Hizbullah veteran of parliament representing Beirut.

Safa, the Treasury said, maintains the group's ties to financiers and allegedly helps arrange the smuggling of weapons and drugs.

Targeting Hizbullah business activities

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

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

The sanctions have aimed particularly at companies and individuals who help the group move money throughout the Middle East.

Pompeo said the US pressure on Iran and Hizbullah was having an effect on the Lebanese group's operations.

"As a result, this designated terrorist organisation has been forced to take unprecedented austerity measures," he said.

"For example, in March 2019, for the first time ever, Hizbullah's leader Hassan Nasrallah made a public appeal for financial support."

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