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U.S to step up sanctions after hezbollah blocks government formation

Source: Annahar
Georgi Azar
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with Prime Minister-Designate Moustapha Adib, at the presidential palace, in Baabda, Lebanon, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (AP Photo)
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with Prime Minister-Designate Moustapha Adib, at the presidential palace, in Baabda, Lebanon, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (AP Photo)
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BEIRUT: Deliberations between Lebanon’s rival political factions Tuesday failed to break the stalemate over the government formation crisis, with the Shiite duo of Amal and Hezbollah hellbent on retaining the highly coveted finance portfolio. 

The Shiite duo remains unwavering in its insistence on retaining the Finance Ministry, sources say, raising questions over the fate of Prime Minister-designate Mustafa Adib’s French-backed efforts to form a government in record time. 

Forming a government typically takes months as Lebanon’s politicians bicker over the allocation of ministries. 

During his visit to Lebanon last month, however, French President Emmanuel Macron urged officials to put aside their differences and pave the way for the formation of a miniature government able to implement drastic reforms that would unlock billions in international support. 

On Tuesday, President Michel Aoun held meetings with representatives of the majority of Lebanon’s leading parliamentary blocks in an attempt to mend bridges and come to terms over the makeup of the government. 

The Christian Lebanese Forces, whose supporters clashed with backers of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement on Monday night, boycotted the meeting along with the Druze Progressive Socialist Party. 

Both groups have maintained their unwillingness to partake in the government, in line with Macron’s wishes.

His 15-day deadline for the formation of new government made up of independent experts expires Tuesday.

“What is needed now is the achievement of tangible results and everything outside this framework is an incessant slaughter of the Lebanese people,” a source with the Lebanese Forces told Annahar, blasting the latest round of deliberations as “a waste of time.”

France has taken a leading role since the deadly Beirut blast on August 4, with Macron attempting to find common ground between the Hezbollah-backed camp and its rivals. 

Macron has been cautious in his handling of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group, which holds significant political influence over Lebanon along with a sizeable military wing. 

Unlike Paris, Washington has long refused to differentiate its political and military wings, designating it in its entirety as a terrorist group since the early 00s’. 

“The United States has assumed its responsibility and we will stop Iran buying Chinese tanks and Russian air defense systems and then selling weapons to Hezbollah (and) torpedoing President Macron’s efforts in Lebanon,” Pompeo told France Inter radio.

“You can’t allow Iran to have more money, power and arms and at same time try to disconnect Hezbollah from the disasters it provoked in Lebanon,” he said, hinting at another batch of sanctions targeting Hezbollah allies. 

Pompeo cautioned that the French effort is set up to fail if it refuses to tackle the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons, which have been used in armed combat in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. 

Last week, the U.S slapped sanctions on two ex-Lebanese ministers on charges of providing material support for Hezbollah as well as corruption. 

Ali Hassan Khalil, the former Finance Minister and close Berri aid, was blacklisted for funneling funds to Hezbollah while in office. Another Hezbollah ally, ex Public Works Youssef Fenianos, was also targeted after receiving thousands of dollars “in exchange for political favors” from the group in 2015.

The sanctions, the first of their kind, are part of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign to isolate Hezbollah and its allies
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