BEIRUT: The US imposed sanctions on Tuesday on two former Lebanese government ministers for corruption and supporting Hezbollah.
The sanctions targeted former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former transport minister Youssef Fenianos.
Khalil is a senior official in the Amal group headed by parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri. Fenianos is a member of the Christian Marada group allied with Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria. Their assets in the US will be blocked and any financial dealings with them are subject to criminal penalties.
The US said Khalil directed funds to Hezbollah institutions to evade US sanctions, and Fenianos received “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from Hezbollah in return for political favors.
Washington “will use all available authorities to promote accountability for Lebanese leaders who have failed their people,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“Hezbollah depends on Lebanon's corrupt political system for survival. Anyone helping to advance Hezbollah’s political or economic interests is further eroding what remains of effective governance and facilitating financing for terrorism.”
Meanwhile troops were deployed in the Tariq Al-Jadida area of Beirut on Tuesday to prevent further violence at the funeral of a man killed in a shoot-out the night before.
The man died and two others were injured in fighting between rival groups armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi and Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian met on Tuesday to discuss the incident, and both condemned the violence.
“The armed riot is unacceptable,” Fahmi said. “People are fed up with innocent civilians being killed and injured in disputes between individuals who hide behind their weapons.”
Derian described the clashes as “fighting among brothers.”
“Disputes cannot be solved with weapons,” he said. “Enough fighting. We hope our children will return to their senses.”
Khalil, from the southern town of Khiam, joined Amal when he was a law student in the 1980s and is considered to be Nabih Berri’s right-hand man. He was first elected to parliament in 1996 for a Shiite seat in Marjayoun-Hasbaya, and re-elected in the 2000, 2005 and 2009 elections.
He was agriculture minister in the government of Rafik Hariri, and in later administrations became health minister and finance minister. During the street protests in Lebanon that began last October, information published about Khalil’s personal wealth surprised many who knew him.
Fenianos is part of the Marada movement headed by former minister Suleiman Franjieh, and is said to form a channel of communication and coordination between Hezbollah and the Future Movement. He has previously defended against Hezbollah against accusations of using Beirut airport for illegal purposes.
Arab News last month reported a surge in smuggling personal weapons from Syria as confidence in the Lebanese state evaporates amid a political vacuum and economic collapse.
Many Lebanese are also taking to flimsy boats and fleeing to Cyprus, 90 km across the Mediterranean. Cyprusrepatriated 90 Lebanese migrants to Tripoli on Tuesday, some of them women and children, after they attempted to enter the island illegally.
“At least five boats carrying more than 150 migrants were stopped,” Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said. “Cyprus is on alert.” Cypriot officials will visit Lebanon this week to discuss the problem.