UK's Decision to Ban Hezbollah Wont Affect British Relations With Lebanon

Published February 26th, 2019 - 08:41 GMT
Hezbollah rally in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon. (AFP/ File Photo)
Hezbollah rally in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon. (AFP/ File Photo)

The United Kingdom’s decision to proscribe Hezbollah will not change London’s “strong” relationship with Lebanon, a source from the U.K. Embassy in Beirut said Monday.

U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid earlier Monday announced the decision to proscribe and designate the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

But the embassy source said the Home Office’s decision did not “change the strong relationship we have with Lebanon.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt maintained that the U.K. is a “staunch” supporter of a stable and prosperous Lebanon.

“This does not change our ongoing commitment to Lebanon, with whom we have a broad and strong relationship,” he said, according to a statement from the Home Office.

U.K. Ambassador to Lebanon Chris Rampling echoed this sentiment Monday evening.

“The Home Secretary has announced the U.K. Government intends to proscribe Hezbollah in full. This important decision is about Hezbollah: strong U.K. support for the Lebanese people and state will continue in security, education, services and the economy,” he tweeted.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he hoped to maintain positive relations between the two countries.

“Britain had already placed Hezbollah’s military wing on the terrorist list, and now it added the political wing,” he said in an interview with Egypt’s DMC channel.

“We see this as a matter that involves Britain and not Lebanon.

“What is important to us is that the relationship between us is not harmed, and I hope they see Lebanon as Lebanon and its people.

“We need to build the best relationship with all and this is the foundation for Lebanon’s future and its interests.”

Hunt said the U.K. couldn’t be complacent concerning terrorism.

“It is clear the distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings does not exist, and by proscribing Hezbollah in all its forms, the government is sending a clear signal that its destabilizing activities in the region are totally unacceptable and detrimental to the U.K.’s national security.”According to the Home Office’s statement, a draft presented in Parliament “will proscribe the group in its entirety” because, “Hezbollah is continuing in its attempts to destabilize the fragile situation in the Middle East and we are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party,” Javid said.

Before Monday’s decision, the U.K. had banned Hezbollah’s External Security Organization and its military wing in 2001, and its Jihad Council in 2008.

The U.K. decision also banned Ansar al-Islam, a militant force in Burkina Faso, and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, which operates in the Sahel region in Africa.

As of Friday, when the order will come into effect, “being a member, or inviting support for Hezbollah, Ansar al-Islam and JNIM will be a criminal offense, carrying a sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment,” the statement read.

The statement said Hezbollah “continues to amass weapons in direct contravention of U.N. Security Council Resolutions, putting the security of the region at risk.”

It also blamed Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war since 2012 for prolonging the conflict and the “regime’s brutal and violent repression of the Syrian people.”

Hezbollah publically stated that it had joined the Syrian war in 2013 to prop up Bashar Assad’s government. The party helped recapture what was a rebel stronghold in Syria’s Qusair in 2013.

The embassy source said that prior to Monday’s decision, the U.K. has long been concerned by Hezbollah’s regional activities. “We have had a no contact with the political wing for a number of years.”

The source added because Hezbollah itself had publically denied a distinction between its military and political wings, “the distinction between the two wings is now untenable and it is right to proscribe the entire organization.”

Hezbollah, as is customary, did not comment on the decision.

As for the Lebanese ministries headed by Hezbollah members or affiliates Health, Youth and Sports and Ministry of State for Parliamentary affairs the source said the U.K. didn’t provide support for any of those institutions, and so there would be “no change” in how the U.K. deals with them.

“But the U.K. will continue to support the Lebanese government on security, stability, prosperity and education, with total U.K. assistance to Lebanon close to $200 million per year.”

The source would not comment on whether Hezbollah members, ministers, MPs or their families could enter the U.K. following the decision.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil also commented on the decision during a joint news conference with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, where he downplayed the decision’s effect on Lebanon. “Us in Lebanon, we have gotten used to this from other countries,” he said.

“If the whole world stood and said that the resistance [Hezbollah] is a terrorist [group], this doesn’t make it a terrorist group for the Lebanese and as long as the land is occupied, the resistance is going to be embraced by the state institutions and the people,” he added.

Mogherini said the U.K.’s stance on Hezbollah was a sovereign matter and did not affect the EU’s attitude toward the party.

The U.K. decision comes after the United States designated Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization in October 1997. Hezbollah’s predecessor, the Islamic Jihad Organization, was responsible for the U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. servicemen.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his support for the U.K. decision, tweeting, “The U.S. commends our British allies for banning [Hezbollah]. This #Iran-sponsored terrorist group has American blood on its hands & continues to plot & carry out attacks in the Mideast, Europe & around the world. International unity to confront Iran’s regime continues to grow.”

The group was also responsible for a bombing near the Beirut airport hours after the barracks bombing, which hit a position held by French soldiers from the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment.

But Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said his country has always distinguished between Hezbollah’s military wing which it considers a terrorist group - and its political arm.

“It’s not the role of France or any external power to know which Lebanese political force represented in Lebanon is good or not. It’s up to the Lebanese people,” Macron said during a joint news conference in Paris with Iraq’s President Barham Saleh.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

Copyright © 2019, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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