In blow to Hizbullah, Lebanon bars Bahrain opposition from holding Beirut events

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

A Bahraini cleric walks past a cardboard cutout bearing the portrait of Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the banned Shia opposition movement Al-Wefaq, on May 29, 2016. [Mohammed al-Sheikh/AFP]

A Bahraini cleric walks past a cardboard cutout bearing the portrait of Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the banned Shia opposition movement Al-Wefaq, on May 29, 2016. [Mohammed al-Sheikh/AFP]

BEIRUT -- Lebanon on Thursday (February 10) banned Hizbullah-linked Bahraini opposition forces from holding two events in the country, amid efforts to ease a rift with the Gulf states, which suspended diplomatic ties with Lebanon in October.

The decision comes weeks after Lebanon ordered the expulsion of members of Bahrain's leading opposition party, Al-Wefaq, after they held a news conference in Beirut that had irked authorities in the Gulf kingdom, where it is banned.

Hizbullah also hosted a January 12 conference in Lebanon for Saudi opposition figures -- further straining the country's ties with the Gulf.

Saudi opposition figures attended the gathering, along with Houthi officials.

On Thursday, Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said he was banning "two events" organised by Bahraini opposition figures which were due to take place on Friday and next Monday.

"If these two events were to take place, they would undermine official Bahraini authorities and Gulf Arab states, thus blocking efforts by Lebanon to boost ties with these countries," Mawlawi said in a statement.

In October last year, Saudi Arabia and its allies, including Bahrain, suspended diplomatic ties with Lebanon after the airing of comments by then information minister George Kordahi criticising Riyadh's military intervention in Yemen.

Kordahi resigned in December in a bid to ease the stand-off, as part of diplomatic efforts to restore trust with Beirut, which is grappling with an unprecedented financial crisis.

According to Mawlawi, the events had been scheduled to take place in a hotel near Beirut airport, in the capital's southern suburbs -- a stronghold of the Iran-backed Hizbullah.

In July 2016, Bahrain's judiciary dissolved Al-Wefaq over allegations including "harbouring terrorism".

Al-Wefaq has close links with Hizbullah.

Mawlawi did not say who was organising the planned events in Beirut.

Harming Lebanon's image

While some have been working hard to achieve a thaw, Hizbullah's actions in Lebanon -- especially its hosting of the January 12 conference for Saudi opposition figures -- have done Lebanon a disservice, analysts say.

Many saw these actions as "very offensive" to Lebanon, including former justice minister Ashraf Rifi, who said, "Has Hizbullah no shame?"

"Hizbullah is harming Lebanon's image, interests and relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries," Rifi said.

Also commenting on the Saudi opposition conference in Lebanon, Assembly for Sovereignty movement co-ordinator Naufal Daou said that holding such conferences is "a threat to the Lebanese political system".

It implies the government cannot manage the country's affairs, and that Hizbullah controls the government and all the levers of the state, he said, while in practice, it does not know how to manage state affairs.

Today, Iran is caught between a rock and a hard place, he said, as it is coming under air strikes in Syria, with Russia looking the other way, and is unable to completely control its proxies in Iraq and Lebanon.

It is therefore applying pressure in different directions, via its proxies, he said.

The Iranian people and the peoples of the countries Iran wants to control are mired in hunger and isolation, and its money is spent on wars and uranium enrichment, he said, while the peoples of the GCC states are enjoying great wealth.

The GCC's money is being spent on "welfare, education and development", he said, adding that Iran seeks to disrupt this state of affairs "through Saudi and Arab terrorist cells that claim to be the opposition".

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