US imposes sanctions on Hezbollah 2 MPs and security official in Lebanon

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This combination of three photo shows, from left, Wafiq Safa, a top Hezbollah security official, and Lebanon Parliament members Muhammad Hasan Ra'd and Amin Sherri in Beirut. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
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Amin Sherri with the powerful Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. (US Treasury Department)
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Muhammad Hasan Ra'd is part of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's inner circle. (US Treasury Department)
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Wafiq Safa is responsible for Hezbollah’s coordination with the international community. (US Treasury Department)
Updated 10 July 2019
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US imposes sanctions on Hezbollah 2 MPs and security official in Lebanon

  • The Treasury named MPs Amin Sherri and Muhammad Hasan Ra'd to a terror-related blacklist
  • Designation says Hezbollah uses its parliamentary power to advance its alleged violent activities

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT: The US imposed sanctions on Tuesday on two Hezbollah members of the Lebanese Parliament and a security official with the Iran-backed group.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of Treasury said MPs Amin Sherri and Muhammad Hasan Ra’ad, members of the Loyalty to Resistance Bloc, acted on behalf of Hezbollah, which used its parliamentary power to advance its violent activities. 

OFAC released a photo of Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani with his arm around Sherri’s shoulder.

The other man blacklisted is Wafiq Safa, a top Hezbollah official close to leader Hassan Nasrallah. The US said Safa maintained the group’s ties to financiers and arranged the smuggling of weapons and drugs.

Ra’ad, 64, is the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc and an MP since 1992. Sherri, 62, is a 17-year Hezbollah veteran of Parliament representing Beirut.

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

The move came as the US steps up pressure on Iran and its alleged “proxies” in the Middle East, including Hezbollah, which Washington accuses of encouraging “terror” attacks.

 

What the sanction mean

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

The sanctions bar US citizens from dealing with the three men, block any assets they have in the US and limit their access to the US financial system.

A Trump administration official said the US wanted the sanctions to have a “chilling effect” on anyone who does business with Hezbollah. 

“It is time we believe for other nations around the world to recognize that there is no distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wing,” a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity told journalists.

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

“The message is actually that the rest of the Lebanese government needs to sever its dealings with these figures,” the State Department said.

The Treasury Department also called on “the international community to include Hezbollah on terrorism lists,” stressing that there is “no distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wing.”

“The Lebanese government must sever its contacts with the sanctioned Hezbollah members. We will not close our eyes to members of the party in the government,” it added.

 

Hezbollah defiant

Hezbollah deputy Ali Fayyad said: “The US sanctions resolution is an insult to the Lebanese people, first and foremost” He added “There must be an official position from the parliament and the government on what affects Lebanon’s sovereignty.”

Hezbollah is represented in parliament by 13 deputies. The bloc is led by Raad, who was born in 1955 in the town of Jbaa in southern Lebanon, and is married with five children. He studied philosophy at the Lebanese University and participated in the creation of the Lebanese Union for Muslim Students, which was active in the late 1980s.

According to the Loyalty to Resistance Bloc’s website, he was one of the “early activists in Hezbollah and the Islamic resistance movement, and one of the founders of the support committees for the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979. He headed the editorial board of the political weekly newspaper Al-Ahed for 10 years and took leadership positions in Islamic work.”

Raad was elected to represent southern Lebanon in 1992 and re-elected in 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009. He was a member of the Hezbollah delegation, led by Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that attended the National Dialogue Conference in 2006, which was organized to find a solution to the political crisis in Lebanon after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 on September 2004, which called for free and fair presidential elections and the withdrawal of foreign forces, and the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.

Raad, an outspoken defender of Hezbollah’s positions, denounced “the United States and those who are planning to defeat the spirit of resistance so that no obstacle remains to the ‘Deal of the Century’ (economic Middle East peace plan) they are marketing, by trying to subjugate us by means of the economic siege, starving us and imposing conditions on our sovereignty.”

He added: “We are interested in addressing this plan because it is aimed at our existence. They want to twist our arms.”

Sherri was born in 1957 in Beirut to a family that worked in the fields of trade and industry. He was elected to the parliament in 1998, reelected in 2004 and held his seat until 2010, and was elected again in 2019.

Safa, who is in charge of Hezbollah’s Liaison and Coordination Unit, oversees Hezbollah’s interactions with the international community and the Lebanese security agencies.


Trusted by Nasrallah

The website Janoubia.com, which opposes Hezbollah, said that Safa “represents by himself an international and Arab network as well as a Lebanese network. He is always present and interferes in the smallest details. 

Even when there is a disruption in the contacts between Hezbollah and the Lebanese political leaders, Safa remains in touch with army officers, the Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party or the Lebanese Forces, the site said.

Safa was Hezbollah's first negotiator in all the prisoner-exchange operations with Israel since the founding of the party and was directly linked to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Safa enjoys the Trust of Nasrallah as one of the party's primary and senior cadres.”

Known as a man of few words who is very secretive, Safa was a member of the Shiite Amal Movement militia before joining Hezbollah in the 1980s after the 1978 disappearance of Shiite religious leader Musa Al-Sadr in Libya.

“Targeting Hezbollah deputies in the sanctions might be for intelligence reasons, because of some telephone calls or frequent visits to a place,” said former Lebanese ambassador to Washington Riad Tabbara. 

He added that the US call for the Lebanese government to sever relations with the two deputies and the security official “is subject to negotiations.”

He explained: “Hezbollah has already been on the list of sanctions, and its representatives in the government and parliament receive salaries from the Lebanese government. This comes in accordance with arrangements agreed between the Lebanese and US sides through delegations from the Lebanese Central Bank and from the parliament that visited Washington and reached solutions that do not harm Lebanon or break US sanctions.

“The United States is concerned about Lebanon’s economic, security and political stability, and it goes easy with Lebanon under this ceiling.”

The latest sanctions are “a message to Iran and its arms in the region,” he added.

 

(With AP)


PLO expects less overt racism from a Gantz administration

Updated 18 min 59 sec ago

PLO expects less overt racism from a Gantz administration

  • Retired general Benny Gantz is contesting the Israeli leadership from PM Benjamin Netanyahu

AMMAN, Jordan: A senior PLO official told Arab News that no substantive difference will occur with a possible Benny Gantz administration in Israel but “it will most likely have less overt racism.”

PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi noted that the head of the Blue and White party in Israel has not shown any significant interest in a major change of policy toward Palestinians. “Given the fact that he competed with (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu on who has been tougher with Palestinians and he didn’t oppose Netanyahu’s threat to annex the Jordan Valley, I don’t expect any serious change on the ground and for sure no change in regards to Jerusalem.”

On the other hand, Riyad Al-Maliki the Palestinian foreign minister called on the world community to engage with the “golden opportunity” for peace being offered by Palestinians saying president Mahmoud Abbas offers to negotiate with any new head of state in Israel. “We respect the results of Israel’s democratic elections and we are willing to sit with whoever establishes a new government to renew peace negotiations,”
Al-Maliki said.

The head of Palestinian diplomacy continued in a statement issued in Oslo on behalf of the Palestinian president saying that “this is a strong and clear statement to the Israeli society and the international community that the Palestinian leadership is ready for talks with the other side and that this is a reassurance that we have never rejected any chance for negotiations, a position that president Abbas assured US President Donald Trump in his four meetings with the American leader.”

SPEEDREAD

The head of the Blue and White party in Israel has not shown any significant interest in a major change of policy toward Palestinians.

While awaiting the Israeli response to this Palestinian peace overture, Ashrawi predicted, that a Benny Gantz administration might have a softer public stand regarding Palestinians.  “I expect less overt racism and violent military rhetoric from him,” she said.

The senior Palestinian official at the same time also expected that some small “living conditions” changes could occur if the opponent of Netanyahu became prime minister. “We are realistic and therefore we don’t expect an epiphany or an about-turn, nor do we expect a full commitment to a just peace, but it is possible that a different government in Israel might carry certain steps to ease pressure on Palestinians.”

The recent period has seen a major escalation by the Netanyahu government both verbally and in policy toward Palestinians and the Palestinian government. 

Ashrawi expects that the Israeli policymakers are aware of how “volatile” the situation has become under Netanyahu in recent years. Ashrawi told Arab News that a new Israeli government might want “to defuse this volatility” and make certain improvements on various levels, including the Gaza siege or on the movement of people and goods. 

“But we will not ask for such improvements,” she said.