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Lebanon's leaders decry US sanctions against Hezbollah MPs

President Aoun says he regrets US measures, while Parliament Speaker Berri calls them undemocratic
Saad Hariri (R), Michel Aoun (C) and Nabih Berri at celebration marking Lebanon's independence in Beirut, 22 November 2018 (AFP/File photo)

Lebanese President Michel Aoun decried US sanctions imposed on Hezbollah-linked members of the country's parliament earlier this week, saying the measures go against long-held US policies.

"Lebanon regrets that the United States has taken those steps, especially against two elected members of the parliament," the president's office said in a statement on Wednesday, as reported by Lebanon's National News Agency.

"The issue will be followed up with the appropriate American authorities," added Aoun, who is backed by Hezbollah.

His remarks come a day after the US Department of Treasury announced sanctions targeting Lebanese parliament members Amin Sherri and Muhammad Rad, as well as Wafiq Safa, a top aide to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

The US designated Hezbollah a terrorist group in 1997, but it has largely spared elected representatives from sanctions targeting the group.

Hezbollah, a Shia-dominated militant organisation and political party that has major influence over the Lebanese government, rejects accusations of terrorism, saying it is a resistance movement against Israel.

US imposes sanctions on Hezbollah MPs in Lebanon
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This week's US sanctions have sparked fears that Washington may impose further measures against Lebanon, worsening the country's already struggling economy.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri called for the Lebanese banking system, the backbone of the economy, to be protected.

Still, he said American sanctions against the MPs would not change the way his cabinet and the Lebanese parliament operate.

"There is no doubt that this is a new direction, as it targets representatives in the parliament … It's a new issue that we will deal with accordingly," Hariri said

Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri also condemned the US sanctions, calling them an attack on the legislative body and on Lebanon as a whole.

"I ask: Is the American democracy now inventing and imposing sanctions on the world's democracies?" Berri said.

Berri, a close Hezbollah ally, often hosts US officials and serves as an intermediary between the Lebanese group and the international community.

On Wednesday, he called on the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a Geneva-based organisation for lawmakers around the world, to take action against Washington's "illogical" sanctions. 

Other religious leaders and politicians in Lebanon also condemned the US decision, calling it undemocratic.

Abdel Amir Qabalan, head of the country's Supreme Islamic Shia Council, said the sanctions harm US-Lebanese relations.

"These sanctions violate Lebanon's sovereignty and challenge the Lebanese people's ability to choose their own representatives in contradiction of democratic values," Qabalan said.