Lebanon speaker condemns US sanctions on lawmakers

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. The U.S. Treasury Department is imposing sanctions the three men, who are suspected of using their positions to further the aims of the Iran-backed military group and “bolster Iran’s malign activities.” (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s parliament speaker said Wednesday the new U.S. sanctions targeting two Hezbollah lawmakers are an aggression against the whole country, describing them as irrational.

Nabih Berri’s comments were first carried by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV. They came a day after the U.S. Treasury Department said it is targeting two Hezbollah lawmakers and a security official suspected of using their positions to further the aims of the Iran-backed group as well as bolster Tehran’s “malign activities.”

Berri, a Hezbollah ally and parliament speaker for years, said the sanctions were an attack on Lebanese democracy.

It’s the first time the U.S. has targeted lawmakers currently seated in Lebanon’s parliament. Hezbollah and its allies won a majority in 2018 elections and the group has three Cabinet seats, the largest number it has ever controlled. The group, founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the 1980s, is also among the most effective armed groups in the region and has fought several wars with neighboring Israel. Lebanon is still technically at war with Israel.

Hezbollah has also sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to fight alongside the troops of President Bashar Assad.

Hezbollah has been under increasing financial sanctions from the United States. But Treasury officials said the latest designation, naming lawmakers Mohammad Raad who leads the group’s parliamentary bloc and Amin Sherri, makes clear that there is no dividing line between Hezbollah’s political and militant wings.

Berri called on the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union to take the necessary measures regarding the “irrational behavior.” It is not clear what the union can do.