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US approves sanctions targeting Hezbollah as it seeks to clamp down on Iran

Israel sees Iran and Lebanese ally Hezbollah (pictured) as its greatest existential threat, a view shared by the leaders of the region's main Sunni Arab states
ANWAR AMRO (AFP/File)
This is part of a comprehensive strategy to target Iran’s ballistic missile program and reassert US policy.

The United States House of Representatives unanimously passed on Wednesday a slew of bills sanctioning the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization and its militants and targeting illicit funding of the group. 

A three-pronged sanction package debated in the House on Wednesday has the overarching aim of preventing Hezbollah militants from receiving illicit funding whilst simultaneously constraining its development and reported growing stockpile of arsenal, which is reported to stand at a sum of 150,000 missiles.

The first of the bills would encourage the European Union to fully designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization, stipulating a shift in current EU policy which only outlaws its “military wing”, to encompass also its political wing.

"The world knows that Hezbollah is a terrorist group," Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, said of the legislation which he authored. "It’s time for the European Union to end its false distinction and join us in designating all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization."

"That begins with calling them what they are – a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel and undermining the values and interests of the United States and – our EU friends must acknowledge, as well – the values and interests of Europe," he said.

A second bill addresses the terrorist organization's use of civilians as human shields. Throughout its 2006 conflict with Israel, Hezbollah were internationally lambasted for storing weapons in civilian homes and firing rockets from populated areas. The Trump administration has urged the UN Security Council to impose international sanctions against this, “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

The third bill would amend the 2015 sanctions law targeting Hezbollah’s finances with regards to its recruitment capabilities and fundraising capacity. It would require the president to report back annually to Congress on the net worth of the Lebanese group’s leaders.

- US moves to stifle Iranian ambitions -

The bills are the most recent attempt by the US to constrain Iranian ambitions by targeting its most significant proxy, after Trump declined to re-certify the Iran nuclear deal earlier this month.

At the time, Trump announced a comprehensive strategy, including broad sanctions, to target Iran’s ballistic missile program and reassert US policy which aims to prevent Iran from undertaking any activity related to developing its nuclear capability.

Tillerson told a New Delhi Press Conference on Wednesday that US actions also sought to limit Iran's other "destabilizing activities" in the Middle East, including "their export of arms to terrorist organizations" and involvement in conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

"Our fight is not with the Iranian people. Our disagreements are with the revolutionary regime," Tillerson said.

"We are taking actions to impose sanctions on the regime and in particular the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. It is our objective to deny financing capacity and to disrupt the activities related to these malign behaviours."

President Donald Trump's administration has taken a tougher line with Iran, threatening to tear up an international accord on its nuclear program.

(Staff with agencies)

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