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US sanctions against Hizballah will not target banks, says top Lebanese banker

Sanctions will not target Lebanese banks as long as they abide by American regulations [AFP]

Date of publication: 24 October, 2017

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New anti-Hizballah sanctions will not target Lebanon's banking sector as long as the banks abide by American regulations, Joseph Torbey, head of Association of Banks in Lebanon said on Monday.
New US sanctions against the militant Hizballah group expected to be released in the near future are not likely to affect the country's banking sector that is the backbone of the tiny Arab country's economy, a top Lebanese banker said on Monday.

The US House of Representatives is expected to vote as early as this week on new sanctions against Hizballah.

It is still not clear whether the sanctions will target the group's allies in Lebanon.

The US has been increasing pressure on Hizballah and earlier this month imposed sanctions on two of the group's officials, offering millions of dollars for information leading to their capture.

Joseph Torbey, head of Association of Banks in Lebanon, told reporters that US officials have reassured a Lebanese banking delegation that visited Washington recently that the sanctions are not going to target the Lebanese banking sector as long as they abide by American regulations.

He added that the Lebanese banking delegation tried "to shield the Lebanese economy from negative repercussions resulting from the new laws" through its meetings with US officials and bankers.

The new American sanctions will come nearly two years after then US President Barack Obama signed the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act that imposes sanctions on banks that knowingly do business with the group.

Read Also: Lebanese bank hires anti-Hizballah former US Treasury official for terror-financing advice

Washington considers Hizballah a terrorist organisation and has imposed sanctions on the group and its top commanders.

The expected new sanctions come at a time when the Trump administration is increasing pressure on Iran, Hizballah's main backer that has been supplying the group with weapons and money for more than three decades.

Hizballah is more powerful that the Lebanese army and has seats in the Cabinet and parliament.

The group also runs a chain of schools, hospitals and charitable organisations that provide services in areas where it enjoys popular support.

Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged earlier this month that the sanctions will affect his group that widely uses cash in its financial dealings.

"This does not affect our main source of finances, but there are people who donate (money) to us who might be cautious," Nasrallah said in an apparent reference to the money they directly get from oil and gas-rich Iran. "It will cause some harm to us."

Earlier this month, the State Department offered up to $7 million for information leading to the capture of Talal Hamiyah, who it claims leads Hizballah's "international 
terrorism branch".

It also put a $5 million bounty on Fuad Shukr, a Hizballah member who runs the group’s military forces in southern Lebanon, where the group is based. It said he played a key role in the group's recent military operations in Syria.

On October 13, US President Donald Trump noted in a speech that terrorist attacks against Americans and American allies were committed by Iranian proxies including Hizballah.

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