The United States denounced the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah for backing Bashar al-Assad on Friday, and added it to a list of organizations under sanctions for their ties to the Syrian regime.
“This action highlights Hezbollah’s activities within Syria and its integral role in the continued violence the Assad regime is inflicting on the Syrian population,” the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.
Hezbollah has been providing training, advice and extensive logistical support to the government of Syria, the U.S. Treasury said in a statement announcing the financial penalties.
The Treasury Department's latest actions against Syria will freeze any assets Hezbollah may have under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit Americans and U.S. companies from dealing with them.
Washington already classes Hezbollah a “terrorist organization” and it is under U.S. sanctions, but Friday’s move explicitly ties the group to the violence underway in Syria, where Assad is attempting to put down a revolt.
“Hezbollah’s extensive support to the Syrian government’s violent suppression of the Syrian people exposes the true nature of this terrorist organization and its destabilizing presence in the region,” said David Cohen, the Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
“Long after the Assad regime is gone, the people of Syria and the entire global community will remember that Hezbollah, and its patron Iran, contributed to the regime’s murder of countless innocent Syrians.”
Hezbollah was added to a blacklist associated with an executive order signed by U.S. President Barack Obama in August last year which targeted the government of Syria and its supporters.
Those sanctions were designed increase pressure on Damascus as Washington called for the first time for Assad to step down over his military assault on rebelling Syrians opposed to his rule.
But 17 months after the start of the uprising the Syrian leader remains in power, and more than 20,000 people have been killed.
Earlier, the United States said it was preparing to announce new sanctions targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its supporters, a U.S. government official said on Friday.
“We will be tightening even further with additional sanctions that drive at both Syrian entities and those who are supporting the efforts of the Syrian government to oppress its own people,” the official told reporters travelling with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Ghana.
The new measures are expected to target Assad’s government as well as possibly Iranian entities that the United States accuse of assisting Assad.
The United States also slapped sanctions Friday on the Syrian state oil company Sytrol for trading with Iran, in bid to starve the regimes in both Tehran and Damascus of much-needed revenue.
"This kind of trade allows Iran to continue developing its nuclear program while providing the Syrian government with resources to oppress its own people," the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
Hezbollah threat in Europe
The United States also fears the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah may be planning imminent attacks in Europe and around the world, a senior security official in Washington said Friday.
“Our assessment is that Hezbollah and Iran will both continue to maintain a heightened level of terrorist activity and operations in the near future,” said Daniel Benjamin, the U.S. State Department’s counter-terrorism coordinator.
“We are increasingly concerned about Hezbollah’s activities on a number of fronts, including its stepped up terrorist campaign around the world,” he said.
“And we assess that Hezbollah could attack in Europe or elsewhere at any time with little or no warning,” he warned, in a conference call with reporters to announce new U.S. sanctions against Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.
Hezbollah is a Shiite armed faction that within Lebanon operates as a political party and as a “resistance” force to counter Israel, and which Western powers says runs an international militant network.
Benjamin warned Hezbollah might step up violent action as international economic sanctions turn the screw on its backers in Iran and Western-backed Syrian rebels threaten to overthrow its sponsor in Damascus.
“Hezbollah maintains a presence in Europe and its recent activities demonstrate that it is not constrained by concerns about collateral damage or political fallout that could result from conducting operations there,” he said.
“Hezbollah believes there have been sustained Israeli and western campaigns against the group and its primary backers Iran and Syria over the past several years and this perception is unlikely to change,” he continued.
“Both remain determined to exact revenge against Israel and to respond forcefully to the Western-led pressure against Iran and Syria,” he said.
“This suggests more acts of terrorism by both Hezbollah and Iran are likely and they will continue to pose a serious threat for the foreseeable future.
“We have not detected any operational activity of the group in the United States,” he added. “We do not have any information on any operational targeting or anything like that in the US.
“But, that said, it’s a very ambitious group with global reach.”