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Saudi Arabia broadens sanctions on Hezbollah

RIYADH, Feb 26, (Agencies): Saudi Arabia on Friday extended sanctions on Hezbollah, in its latest action against the powerful Lebanon-based Shiite militant group fighting in support of Syria’s regime.

The kingdom froze the assets and prohibited dealings with three Lebanese nationals and four companies.

It named the individuals as: Fadi Hussein Sarhan, Adel Mohammed Sheri and Ali Hussein Zuaitar.

Saudi Arabia also sanctioned Vatech Sarl, Le-Hua Electronic Field Co Ltd, Aero Skyone Co Ltd and Labico Sal Offshore.

The United States Treasury Department last year sanctioned Beirut-based Sarhan and his firm Vatech Sarl, along with Sheri, of Shenzhen, China, and his firm Le-Hua Electronic Field Co.

It alleged they were responsible “for providing material support to enhance the group’s military and terrorist capabilities.”

Sarhan purchased unmanned aerial vehicles, while Sheri facilitated Hezbollah’s efforts to obtain electronics “for transport to Yemen for use in improvised explosive devices by the Houthis”, the US Treasury Department alleged.

Saudi Arabia since last March has led an Arab coalition supporting Yemen’s government fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels which seized the country’s capital and other areas.

On Tuesday, Riyadh urged Saudis to leave Lebanon and to not travel there “for their safety”, after the kingdom halted a $3 billion programme funding French military supplies to Beirut.

Riyadh cut the aid in response to “hostile” positions linked to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is backed by Saudi Arabia’s regional Shiite rival Iran, with whom relations have worsened this year.

Qatar and Kuwait followed with similar travel advisories. But the United Arab Emirates went further, banning its nationals from travel to Lebanon and reduced diplomatic representation there.

Announcing the Saudi aid halt a week ago, an official said the kingdom had noticed “hostile Lebanese positions resulting from the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state”.

Riyadh was making “a comprehensive review of its relations with the Lebanese republic”, the unnamed official said, cited by the Saudi Press Agency.

He noted specifically Lebanon’s refusal to join the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in condemning attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran last month.

Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after demonstrators burned its embassy and a consulate following the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

In November, the kingdom added 12 names to a blacklist of individuals and firms allegedly linked to Hezbollah.

Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia has long been deeply suspicious of Hezbollah and its ties to Iran which gives military aid to the group.

Riyadh and its Gulf Arab allies have stepped up sanctions against Hezbollah and its alleged leaders since 2013 in retaliation for its intervention in the Syrian war to support Assad.

Saudi Arabia backs rebels opposed to Syria’s government.

Lebanon’s central bank governor said on Friday he saw no risk to the Lebanese pound and it remained bank policy to keep it stable, adding that he had not been informed of any measures by Saudi Arabia targeting the Lebanese financial sector.

A crisis in ties between the governments of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia has fuelled concerns of potential economic ramifications for Lebanon, which has hundreds of thousands of expatriates working in Gulf Arab states.

Riad Salameh told Reuters that media reports about the size of Saudi deposits at the central bank were inflated, and that neither Saudi Arabia nor other Gulf Arab states had been in touch about deposits.

“I think the market has been misinformed, figures have been largely inflated. By law I cannot disclose figures because I don’t have the right to do it, but I can tell you that what is circulating is inflated figures,” Salameh said.

“Besides all these stories circulating that are not substantiated by Saudi official positions — we disregard them at the central bank — I have not been informed officially, of any measure — coming or happening — concerning the financial sector,” Salameh said.

He said he hoped the government would get “its act together to reestablish good relations with Saudi Arabia, as Lebanon has always been an economic partner with the kingdom”.

Last week Saudi Arabia cancelled a $3 billion aid package to the Lebanese army over the Beirut government’s failure to sign up to statements condemning attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran. The Lebanese national unity government includes the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah.

“There is no risk on the Lebanese pound,” Salameh said. The central bank and Lebanese commercial banks had “the means … to secure the stability of the Lebanese pound”, he said. He said Saudi statements were “not aggressive to the Lebanese people”.

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