Official: Lebanese Hizbullah Ministers, MPs Could Be Hit by U.S. Law

BEIRUT (Reuters) -

Ministers and members of parliament belonging to Lebanon’s Hizbullah could be sanctioned under a new U.S. law targeting the group’s finances, a U.S. Treasury official said on Friday.

The U.S. Hizbullah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA) passed in December threatens sanctions against anyone who finances Hizbullah in a significant way.

It has ignited an unprecedented dispute between Lebanon’s most powerful terror group – the heavily armed Hizbullah – and a central bank widely seen as a pillar of the otherwise weak and dysfunctional Lebanese state.

When asked in an interview with channel LBC if the law could be applied to Hizbullah ministers and MPs in Lebanon, the U.S. Treasury’s Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Daniel Glaser said: “We don’t make a distinction among Hizbullah members.”

Iran-backed Hizbullah, whose terrorists played a major role in forcing Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon in 2000, enjoys strong support in the Lebanese Shiite community. Its members include government ministers, MPs, and local councilors.

Classified as a terrorist group by the United States, Hizbullah wields enormous political influence in Lebanon and its powerful military wing is playing a major role in the Syrian conflict.

The Lebanese central bank and U.S. officials have repeatedly said the law does not target ordinary Lebanese citizens, or the Shiite community in particular, and will not adversely affect the country’s financial sector.

“We understand the difference between Hizbullah and the broader Shiia community,” Glaser said.

“We are implementing this law world wide. Obviously it has specific impact here in Lebanon because Hizbullah has a big presence here in Lebanon. But Hizbullah is the target of this legislation, not the Shiia. And I can’t say that strongly enough,” he said.