U.S. Hits Hezbollah With New Sanctions

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Retribution against Hezbollah for helping the Syrian government fight rebels intensified on Tuesday, as the United States Treasury blacklisted four fund-raising operatives and warned of further steps to choke financing for the group.

The action against the operatives, who the Treasury Department said were based in West Africa, bans them from any dealings with Americans and freezes any assets they may have under American jurisdiction. While the financial impact on Hezbollah was unclear, the department said the move reflected "the alarming reach of Hezbollah activities and its determination to create a worldwide funding and recruitment network to support its violence and criminal enterprises around the world."

There was no immediate reaction by Hezbollah, a militant Lebanese Shiite organization backed by Iran and Syria that Washington has long regarded as a terrorist group. Hezbollah, which plays a broad social and political role in Lebanon, rejects the American portrayal.

The Treasury rebuke came one day after Gulf Arab states promised their own sanctions against Hezbollah for its forceful intervention to assist President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in combating a two-year-old insurgency that is roiling the Middle East. Declaring common cause with Mr. Assad, Hezbollah fighters helped the Syrian military rout rebels from Qusayr, an important rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border, last week in a battle that may have turned the momentum of the conflict in Mr. Assad's favor.

The repudiation of Hezbollah by the Gulf Arab states underscored its increasingly problematic image in the Arab world, which once exalted Hezbollah as a liberation movement for its aggressive challenges to Israel. Hezbollah is now increasingly seen by other Arab states as an Iran ally bent on polarizing the Syria conflict along sectarian faultlines, pitting Mr. Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam, against an array of Sunni insurgents, including some Islamic extremists that claim allegiance to Al Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are major military backers of the Syrian insurgents, and Europe and the Obama administration are debating whether to help arm them as well.

The Treasury Department painted a dark picture of Hezbollah in announcing the sanctions against four Lebanese, who it said had carried out the group's outreach in Sierra Leone, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Gambia.

The Treasury announcement said that the four, identified as Ali Ibrahim al-Watfa, Abbas Loutfe Fawaz, Ali Ahmad Chehade and Hicham Nmer Khanafer, had "organized fund-raising efforts, recruited members, and in some cases styled themselves as ambassador's of Hezbollah's Foreign Relations Department."

David S. Cohen, under secretary in charge of administering sanctions imposed by the United States, rejected Hezbollah's depiction of itself as a resistance organization and noted that three of Europe's most powerful countries -- Britain, Germany and France -- now support an effort within the European Union to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Such a change could vastly complicate Hezbollah's fund-raising activities in Europe.

Mr. Cohen said the four blacklisted Lebanese had helped raise "millions of dollars" for Hezbollah's cause but would not further specify the amount.

"Whether this is a particularly lucrative area, as compared with other mechanisms, is not really the point," he said. "What we're trying to do is try to disrupt Hezbollah's fund-raising."

Hezbollah had already come under increased international pressure before it forcefully intervened in Syria, largely because of lobbying by the United States and Israel. Hezbollah operatives were implicated in a bus bombing in Bulgaria last July that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver, though the country's new government has stepped back from its predecessor's judgment that the group was probably to blame. Hezbollah has denied involvement in that attack.

In March, a court in Cyprus found a Hezbollah member who is a dual Swedish-Lebanese citizen guilty of participating in a plot to attack Israeli tourists there. That court case proved important in turning sentiment against Hezbollah among some European Union members.

Israeli officials have long blamed Hezbollah for orchestrating attacks on Israelis all over the world, including a series of plots last year targeting Israeli diplomatic personnel in Thailand, India and Georgia.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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