Pressure on Hezbollah mounts at home, abroad

The UK joins the US, Japan, Canada and other countries in blacklisting the entire organization. (AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2020

Pressure on Hezbollah mounts at home, abroad

  • UK joins growing list of countries to designate entire organization as terrorist group

LONDON: Friday’s move by the British Treasury to freeze all Hezbollah assets puts more pressure on the Iran-backed Lebanese group, which is being squeezed at home and overseas.

Following the March 2019 assertion by the British government that it was “no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party,” this latest move means anyone conducting financial transactions with Hezbollah could face prosecution.

Prior to Friday’s announcement, only the military wing of Hezbollah — not its political arm — had been subject to asset freezing by the British government.

The announcement by the British Treasury was quickly followed by a call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for “all nations” to follow the British and clamp down on Hezbollah.

The UK joins the US, Japan, Canada and other countries in blacklisting the entire organization.

On Monday, Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala followed suit, adding Hezbollah to their lists of officially designated terrorist organizations.

The British announcement comes amid an upsurge of anti-government protests in Lebanon. Alongside the civil unrest, the country is facing a deepening economic crisis, with experts fearing a collapse of the Lebanese economy.

Matthew Levitt, director of the Counterterrorism Program at the Washington Institute, said the Treasury’s move has the potential to make a real impact on Hezbollah’s operations.

“The move empowers British intelligence and law enforcement to open investigations any time they gather information that an individual or entity is raising funds for Hezbollah, period,” he told Arab News.

“This is a group that engages in covert and overt activity. You now no longer need to prove the money is going to the covert side of the organization.”

The move comes at a time when the world is becoming more aware of the terrorist and criminal activities that Hezbollah is engaged in, Levitt said.

He pointed to its 2015 stockpiling of 3 tons of ammonium nitrate in north London, the imprisonment on terrorism charges of Ali Kourani, a New York-based Hezbollah “sleeper” agent, and major money-laundering activities as the types of criminal enterprise that this approach by the Treasury could help prevent.

However, the impact on Hezbollah depends on the way the asset freeze is implemented. If it is done effectively, Levitt said, it will dissuade Hezbollah from using the UK as a base to support its criminal activity.

The move also comes at a time when the group is under increasing financial stress, both in Lebanon and in the money it receives from Iran, which is facing its own deteriorating economic situation.

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, expects European powers to face increasing pressure to follow the UK and clamp down on Hezbollah’s financing in their own countries.

He called the original distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political arms a “very convenient ruse,” and said the Treasury was always going to make this move, pointing to the deteriorating relations between the UK and Iran.

“There was obviously going to come a time when we were going to freeze their assets and make it illegal to do financial business dealings with Hezbollah,” Doyle told Arab News.

The move, he said, comes in the wake of six months of increased tensions between Britain and Iran, including the dramatic seizure of a British tanker over the summer.

Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

Updated 28 February 2020

Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

  • Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting

AL-MUKALLA: As workers in Yemen’s major port Aden began preparing a coronavirus quarantine facility at Al-Sadaqa Hospital, rumors swirled around the city claiming that if patients were locked inside the hospital, the disease would quickly spread through neighboring areas. 

Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting. People living nearby besieged the hospital, while health workers inside staged a sit-in, refusing to work unless the Health Ministry canceled plans to build the isolation room.

“They threatened to kill me,” Dr. Wafaa Dahbali, Al-Sadaqa Hospital manager, told Arab News.

The hospital’s administration was forced to ask the Health Ministry to move the facility to another location, she said.

“Now we cannot even bring in basic protective items such as masks or gloves since workers will think we still plan to build the quarantine room,” she added.

Yemen, which is gripped by a civil war that has killed thousands of people since late 2014, has intensified efforts to counter coronavirus. But due to crumbling heath services, lack of awareness among people and the influx of hundreds of African migrants via the southern coastline, health officials fear the virus could spread undetected across the country.

Yemen’s Ministry of Health in Aden on Wednesday said that Yemen is free of the disease and all Yemenis returning from China had tested negative. Health Minister Nasir Baoum opened a quarantine center at Seiyun Airport in the southeastern province of Hadramout on Sunday, and said that he had ordered all sea, land and air entry points to ramp up detection measures.

Financial constraints

Health officials across Yemen told Arab News this week that health facilities are working at full capacity to cope with the influx of war casualties, and cases of seasonal diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and H1N1.

The appearance of coronavirus in Yemen would increase the burden on the country’s crumbling and cash-strapped health facilities, they said.

Ibn Sina Hospital in Al-Mukalla provides health services to patients from the three southern provinces of Hadramout, Shabwa and Mahra in addition to treating victims of the conflict in Abyan and Jawf. 

Recently the Health Ministry decided to build a quarantine center at the hospital. Lacking sufficient space, a three-room kitchen was turned into an isolation facility.

However, Dr. Alabed Bamousa, the hospital’s director, told Arab News that the facility could not afford to furnish the unit with medical equipment and staff lacked proper know-how.

“We have nothing at the moment. We asked the ministry for the names of health workers who would be trained by the World Health Organization on dealing with coronavirus patients,” Bamousa said.

He said that workers are not being encouraged to wear masks and gloves in order to avoid triggering panic. 

“My viewpoint is that we shut up till we are ready,” Bamousa said.

Health officials at Al-Mukalla, one of Yemen’s busiest ports, have asked sailors to complete declarations showing their movements before docking.

Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the Health Ministry’s Hadramout office, said that teams of six health workers in each district in the province are visiting Yemenis who have returned from China. 

In the streets, people say that they get information about the virus from social media rather than official channels or local media outlets.

Hassan, a shopkeeper, said that he learned about symptoms of coronavirus and protection measures from WhatsApp. 

“I know that the virus targets the lung and causes fever. We are advised to wash hands and wear marks,” he said.