A UN-backed court on Friday sentenced fugitive Hezbollah member Salim Ayyash to life imprisonment for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri.
“The trial chamber is satisfied that it should impose the maximum sentence for each of the five crimes of life imprisonment to be served concurrently,” said Judge David Re of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in the Netherlands.
Leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movement, both enemies of Israel, have met to discuss diplomatic normalisation between the Jewish state and Arab countries, a report said Sunday.
They stressed the “stability” of the “axis of resistance” against Israel, the Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV channel reported, without saying where or when the meeting took place.
Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement, was pictured meeting Ismail Haniyeh, who heads the political bureau of Hamas, the Islamist movement that control the Gaza Strip.
They discussed “political and military developments in Palestine, Lebanon and the region” and “the dangers to the Palestinian cause” including “Arab plans for normalisation” with Israel, Al-Manar said.
The meeting comes after an August 13 announcement that the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to normalise ties.
While the US-backed diplomatic drive aims to boost a regional alliance against Iran, Palestinians have condemned it as a “stab in the back” as they remain under occupation and don’t have their own state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country is in talks with other Arab and Muslim leaders now about normalising relations, following the deals with UAE and, decades ago, Egypt and Jordan.
Haniyeh has been in Lebanon since Wednesday, on his first visit to the country in nearly 30 years, for direct and video-conference talks with other Palestinian groups that oppose Israel’s diplomatic initiative.
Israel’s military has in recent weeks targeted Hamas in the Gaza Strip and what it says have been Hezbollah gunmen along its northern border with Lebanon.
It also regularly launches air strikes in war-torn Syria against what it says are Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militants fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Nasrallah has been living in a secret location for years and makes very few public appearances. He said in 2014 that he often changes his place of residence.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun will name Hezbollah-backed Hassan Diab as the protest-hit country’s prime minister, the presidency said Thursday, ending nearly two months of political wrangling.
“After binding parliamentary consultations… the president has summoned… Hassan Diab to appoint him to form a government,” the presidency said in a statement after the twice-delayed talks ended on Thursday.
The United States on Monday offered a $10 million reward for information that would disrupt the finances of Lebanon’s Shiite militant movement Hezbollah.
The State Department said it would give the money to anyone who provides intelligence that allows the United States to disrupt Hezbollah in key ways.
The areas include information on Hezbollah’s donors, on financial institutions that assist its transactions and on businesses controlled by the movement.
President Donald Trump’s administration has put a top priority on reducing the influence of Iran, the primary backer of Hezbollah.
The State Department listed three alleged Hezbollah financiers as examples of activities it was seeking to stop, with one, Ali Youssef Charara, allegedly funding the group by investing millions of dollars from Hezbollah in the telecommunications industry in West Africa.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has pointed to a recent appeal by Hezbollah for donations as a sign of US success in curbing Iran.
On a visit last month to Beirut, Pompeo urged Lebanon to counter the “dark ambitions” of Iran and Hezbollah but was rebuffed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who said Hezbollah was not a terrorist group and enjoyed a wide base.
The United States has vowed for decades to fight Shiite militants in Lebanon, with memories still bitter over the 1983 attack on a military barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans.
Hezbollah, however, also functions as a political party, with posts in the current cabinet, and enjoys support among some Lebanese who recall its guerrilla campaign that led Israel to withdraw from the country in 2000.
Iran’s Foreign Minister on Thursday lashed out on Twitter at the US and Saudi Arabia for imposing sanctions on leaders of its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
“Israeli snipers shoot over 2,000 unarmed Palestinian protestors on a single day,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet referring to protests and clashes in the Gaza Strip that killed some 60 people this week.
The “Saudi response, on eve of Ramadan? Collaboration with its US patron to sanction the first force to liberate Arab territory and shatter the myth of Israeli invincibility. Shame upon shame,” he said.
The United States and six Gulf Arab states announced sanctions Wednesday on the leadership of Hezbollah, as Washington seeks to step up economic pressure on Iran and its allies in the region after President Donald Trump withdrew this month from the 2015 nuclear deal.
The US and Saudi-led Terrorist Financing and Targeting Center said the sanctions were aimed at Hezbollah’s Shura Council, the powerful Lebanese group’s decision-making body, led by its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah.
Nasrallah, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qasim, and three other Shura Council members were listed under the joint sanctions, which aim at freezing vulnerable assets of those named and blocking their access to global financial networks.
At the same time, the six Gulf members of the TFTC — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates — declared sanctions on another nine individuals and firms part of or linked to Hezbollah that were already blacklisted by the US Treasury.
Hezbollah is a key player in Lebanese politics, and it maintains its own arsenal of weapons and fighting force.
The group is fighting in Syria alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s military, and it has trained Iraqi Shiite militias which participated in retaking territory from the Islamic State group.
The sanctions by Gulf states follow two US moves this month to put pressure on Iran’s financial networks, including sanctions announced Tuesday aimed at an alleged financial pipeline that moved “hundreds of millions of dollars” from Iran’s central bank through an Iraqi bank to Hezbollah.
The European Union has viewed Hezbollah’s armed wing as a “terrorist” organisation since 2013.
In 2016, the six Arab Sunni powers of the Gulf Co-operation Council — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman – designated Hezbollah a “terrorist” organisation.
The United States slapped sanctions Tuesday on Valiollah Seif, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran, accusing him of helping the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps transfer millions of dollars to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
In the second move in a week taking aim at the money networks of the Revolutionary Guards, or IRGC, the US Treasury also blacklisted a second central bank official, Iraq’s Al-Bilad Islamic Bank and its top two executives, and a liaison between IRGC and Hezbollah, which Washington has designated an international terrorist group.
The Treasury said Seif covertly moved “hundreds of millions of dollars” to Hezbollah from IRGC via Al-Bilad Islamic Bank.
Tuesday’s action seeks to cut off what the US called a “critical” banking network for Iran, and deny those blacklisted access to the global financial system.
“The United States will not permit Iran’s increasingly brazen abuse of the international financial system,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“The global community must remain vigilant against Iran’s deceptive efforts to provide financial support to its terrorist proxies.”
On Thursday, the Treasury announced sanctions against a “large-scale” currency exchange network serving the Revolutionary Guards, hitting six individuals and three companies at the centre of the network.
At the time, the US singled out the Central Bank of Iran as “complicit” in the operation, foreshadowing Tuesday’s action.
The move against Seif came one week after President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear accord and signalled plans to ratchet up pressure on the Iranian economy, and especially on the economic power of the Revolutionary Guards.
A European official said that some senior figures in the US administration were pushing for a “North Korea scenario” in Iran, in reference to the drastic sanctions imposed on the North Korean regime which Washington believes helped push the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, into halting missile and nuclear testing and agreeing to renewed negotiations.
The blacklisted head of Iraq’s Al-Bilad Islamic Bank was named as Aras Habib, who ran in last weekend’s general elections as a candidate on the slate of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, whose government has been supported by the United States and the international community. He is expected to gain a seat in the newly elected assembly.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation on Saturday, citing Iran’s “grip” on the country and threats to his life.
The surprise move risks plunging the small and already fragile Middle Eastern country deeper into turmoil.
“I announce my resignation from the post of prime minister,” Hariri said in a speech broadcast from Saudi Arabia by the Al-Arabiya news network.
“I felt what was being covertly plotted to target my life,” he said.
Hariri’s personal security concerns appeared to gain little traction among the public. Social media were flooded with messages deriding him for choosing to resign from abroad and on a foreign channel.
The two-time premier, whose father Rafik held the same position for years and was assassinated in 2005, accused Iran and its powerful Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah of seeking hegemony in the region.
The 47-year-old Sunni politician’s resignation comes less than a year after his government, to which Hezbollah’s political wing belongs, was formed.
“Iran has a grip on the fate of the region’s countries… Hezbollah is Iran’s arm not just in Lebanon but in other Arab countries too,” Hariri said.
He accused Tehran of “sowing discord among the children of the same nation and creating a state within the state… to the extent that it gets the final say on how Lebanon’s affairs are run”.
Iran dismissed his accusations as “unfounded”.
Hariri’s “repetition of unreal and baseless accusations… against Iran show that the resignation is designed to create tensions in Lebanon and in the region”, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said.
Hariri also had harsh words for Hezbollah.
“In recent years, Hezbollah has used the power of its weapons to impose a fait accompli,” he said, reading a speech from behind a desk.
Hezbollah is a vital ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the war the Damascus regime is waging against the Islamic State group and armed opposition movements.
It enjoys broad support from Iran and is the only Lebanese party to have kept its weapons after the 1975-1990 civil war.
Hezbollah’s arsenal has since grown exponentially and now outstrips that of the nation’s own armed forces.
The group claims it is the only credible rampart against neighbouring Israel, and its refusal to disarm is the main political crux in Lebanon.
Hezbollah members have been accused over the 2005 assassination in a massive car bomb blast of Rafik Hariri, the dominant figure in Lebanon’s post-war political landscape.
He made his fortune in Saudi Arabia, where his son Saad was born.
Saudi Arabia is Iran’s main regional rival, and the two powers’ tussle for influence has played out in ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
The office of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a veteran Christian leader allied to Hezbollah, issued a statement saying it was waiting for Hariri’s return to Lebanon “to enquire about the circumstances of his decision and decide on the next steps”.
Hariri said in his speech that the political climate in Lebanon was reminiscent of that which prevailed before his father was killed.
Risks of war
The February 2005 assassination triggered political upheaval that led to Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon.
Walid Jumblatt, one of Lebanon’s political heavyweights and the country’s most prominent Druze leader, said Hariri’s resignation could adversely affect a country already under huge strain.
He argued it was the latest manifestation of the tug-of-war between Saudi Arabia and Iran and called for intensifying diplomatic efforts to solve the feud.
“Lebanon is too small and vulnerable to bear the economic and political burden that comes with this resignation,” he said on social media. “I will continue to call for dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran.”
Even as he resigned, Hariri warned his foes: “Our nation will rise just as it did before and the hands that want to harm it will be cut.”
Lebanese political analyst Hilal Khashan argued that Saudi Arabia had been piling the pressure on its protege lately and “summoned” him to Riyadh.
He said Hariri’s move could start “a cold war in Lebanon that could escalate into a civil war” or even a regional offensive on Hezbollah.
It is unclear who could replace Hariri at this stage.
Under a power-sharing system that helped end Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, the president must be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker a Shiite.
A man believed to be Hezbollah’s most senior military commander in the Syrian war has been killed in Damascus.
The Lebanon-based militant group says in a statement that Mustafa Amine Badreddine died in a large explosion near Damascus airport.
Badreddine is charged with leading the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri in Beirut in 2005.
Hezbollah supports Syria’s president, Bashar Al-Assad and has sent thousands of fighters into Syria.
The US Treasury, which imposed sanctions on Badreddine last July, said at the time he was “responsible for Hezbollah’s military operations in Syria since 2011, including the movement of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon to Syria, in support of the Syrian regime”.
The group said it was working to “define the nature of the explosion and its cause, and whether it was the result of an air strike, or missile (attack) or artillery”.
The US government has imposed sanctions on Amusement Park, a supermarket in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory and three individuals resident in Nigeria believed to be members of Iran-backed Hezbollah.
The three individuals, Mustapha Fawaz, Fouzi Fawaz and Abdallah Tahini, all born in Lebanon, are accused of being part of the group’s “Foreign Relations Department (FRD)” in Abuja.
In 2013, the three of them were part of a four man group arrested by Nigerian authorities and accused of working with Hezbollah after they uncovered an armory in Kano, which they claimed belonged to the organisation.
The weapons were allegedly intended to be used in an attack against “Israeli and western interests.
Acting Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Adam J. Szubin vowed that the US ” will track Hezbollah’s illicit activities to all corners of the earth.
“Together with our international partners, we are tirelessly working to dismantle Hezbollah’s financial apparatus. Wherever this terrorist group may seek to raise funds, we will target and expose its activity,” he said.
The Fawaz brothers, who have citizenship in Lebanon, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, own Amigo Supermarket and Wonderland Amusement Park and Resort in Abuja.
The statement announcing U.S. sanctions said the Fawaz brothers are really running a Hezbollah front.
“The FRD [Foreign Relations Department of Hezbollah] claims to be in charge of “community relations;” but the primary goal of the FRD in Nigeria is to scout recruits for Hezbollah’s military units, as well as to create and support Hezbollah’s terrorist infrastructure for its operational units in Africa and globally.”
All three men were accused of working with the FRD. Tahini’s responsibilities included, according to the U.S. Treasury, recruiting and supporting Hezbollah’s African networks.
The US Treasury statement, however, did not mention any link or conflict between the Shiite Hezbollah Branch and the Boko Haram, which is most active in Nigeria’s northern states, Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon.
Hezbollah has operated in at least 45 nations, 11 of which are in Africa.
The group has been designated a terrorist group by the US, while the European Union and the United Nations consider only the group’s armed wing, not its political branch, a terrorist organisation.
It is also considered to be one of the richest groups on the US terrorist list, with an estimated $500 million in financial assets.