Proposed US legislation targets Lebanese government over Hezbollah ties

Hezbollah remains a powerful force in Lebanon, where it has received the backing of Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 30 July 2020

Proposed US legislation targets Lebanese government over Hezbollah ties

  • To become law, the bill would have to also be passed by the US House before being sent to President Donald Trump, a critic of Hezbollah

CHICAGO: Texas Senator Ted Cruz is pushing new legislation that would deny US funding to any nation that provides sanctuary or support to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, which serves as a military proxy for Iran.

Now before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senate Bill 3691 was introduced by Cruz, a Republican, in May.

It will receive a hearing before it is sent to the full Senate, where it is expected to be approved. The legislation specifically targets Lebanon’s government, of which Hezbollah is a part.

In conjunction with the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act, the bill would prohibit the US government from assisting any Lebanese government of which Hezbollah is a part, over which it exercises undue influence, or in which “a ministry, agency, or instrumentality of that government is effectively controlled by Hezbollah.”

To become law, the bill would have to also be passed by the US House before being sent to President Donald Trump, a critic of Hezbollah, for his signature.

Hezbollah was designated a terrorist organization by the US in 1995. The directive does not distinguish between Hezbollah’s military arm and its political leadership.

In 2013, Hezbollah’s militia was designated a terrorist organization by the EU after the group was accused of blowing up an Israeli tour bus in Bulgaria.

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Hezbollah remains a powerful force in Lebanon, where it has received the backing of Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

Together with its Christian political ally, the Free Patriotic Movement headed by Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, Hezbollah remains one of Lebanon’s most potent political organizations.

The bill would jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in US government funding for Lebanon.

Recently, the US approved $13 million to assist Lebanon in tackling its COVID-19 outbreak. In the past two decades, Lebanon has received more than $4.9 billion in American aid.

Cruz has sponsored or co-sponsored other laws that specifically target Lebanon’s government in cases involving terrorism or the arrest or detention of American citizens.

Last week, he joined other senators in urging the EU to extend its ban on Hezbollah’s militia to include its political arm, and targeting Hezbollah’s ties to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Last February, in conjunction with New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, whose husband Bill Shaheen is a prominent Arab-American attorney, Cruz introduced the Zero Tolerance for Unlawful Detentions of US Citizens in Lebanon Act (Zero Tolerance Act), which threatened sanctions against Lebanon’s government over the arrest and detention of an American citizen.

The Zero Tolerance Act was prompted by the refusal of Lebanon’s government to free Amer Fakhoury, an American citizen who had been detained in Beirut since September 2019 and is suffering from stage 4 cancer.

Fakhoury, a well-known and well-liked small business owner from New Hampshire, was visiting Lebanon when his US passport was confiscated by the government. He was released in March 2020 as a result of the proposed law.

Fakhoury had been arrested on charges related to a decades-old murder and torture charge in Lebanon that he has denied.


Lebanon information minister quits in first government resignation over blast

Updated 40 min 57 sec ago

Lebanon information minister quits in first government resignation over blast

  • Manal Abdel-Samad apologizes to the Lebanese public for failing them
  • Explosion killed more than 150 people and destroyed swathes of the capital

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s information minister Manal Abdel Samad on Sunday quit in the first government resignation since a deadly port blast killed more than 150 people and destroyed swathes of the capital.

“After the enormous Beirut catastrophe, I announce my resignation from government,” she said in a statement carried by local media, apologizing to the Lebanese public for failing them.

The head of Lebanon’s Maronite church meanwhile called on the entire government to step down over the August 4 explosion, a blast widely seen as shocking proof of the rot at the core of the state apparatus.

Lebanese protesters enraged by the blast vowed to rally again after a night of street clashes in which they stormed several ministries.

Maronite patriarch Beshara Rai joined the chorus of people pressing Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet to step down over a blast he said could be “described as a crime against humanity.”

“It is not enough for a lawmaker to resign here or a minister to resign there,” Rai said in a Sunday sermon.

“It is necessary, out of sensitivity to the feelings of the Lebanese and the immense responsibility required, for the entire government to resign, because it is incapable of moving the country forward.”

Rai echoed calls by Diab for early parliamentary polls — a long-standing demand of a protest movement that began in October, demanding the removal of a political class deemed inept and corrupt.

He also joined world leaders, international organizations and the angry Lebanese public by pressing for an international probe into an explosion authorities say was triggered by a fire in a port warehouse, where a huge shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate had languished for years.

President Michel Aoun on Friday rejected calls for an international investigation, which he said would “dilute the truth.”

At least six lawmakers have quit since the explosion.

Under increased pressure from the street and foreign partners exasperated by the leadership’s inability to enact reforms, Diab’s government is fraying at the edges.