US official said to warn Lebanon future sanctions will hit Hezbollah benefactors
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US official said to warn Lebanon future sanctions will hit Hezbollah benefactors

Assistant secretary for terror financing tells PM Hariri Trump administration planning to target political allies of powerful Iran-backed paramilitary group

Treasury Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing, Marshall Billingslea, left, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in Beirut, Lebanon, on September. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/ Hussein Malla)
Treasury Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing, Marshall Billingslea, left, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in Beirut, Lebanon, on September. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/ Hussein Malla)

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 terrorist group, a Lebanese source told AFP.

Treasury Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea met Prime Minister Saad Hariri and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Monday during a two-day visit to Lebanon.

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.

Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, is also a major political actor in Lebanon and a key government backer in war-torn Syria.

Hezbollah fighters parade during the inauguration of a new cemetery for their fighters who died fighting against Israel, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, on November 12, 2010. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

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 group, said a statement released by the US embassy in Beirut.

Iran-backed Hezbollah has been a US-designated terrorist group since 1997 and fights alongside the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the neighboring country’s civil war. It is Tehran’s most potent proxy on the regional scene and also wields significant influence in Lebanese politics.

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, sparking concerns of an all-out war between the two sides.

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

“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.

People walk past a branch of Jammal Trust Bank in Beirut, Lebanon, August 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

On August 29, heavy financial sanctions took force against the Jammal Trust Bank in Lebanon, which was accused of acting as a key financial institution for Hezbollah. The bank denied the US claims that it “knowingly facilitating banking activities” for Hezbollah, but last week it was forced to self-liquidate under the pressure of the sanctions.

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 terror group and “bolster Iran’s malign activities.” It was the first time Washington targeted Hezbollah legislators.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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