US sanctions against Hezbollah will not target banks: Banker

By BASSEM MROUE Markets Associated Press

New U.S. sanctions against the militant Hezbollah 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 Monday.

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The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote as early as this week on new sanctions against Hezbollah. It is still not clear whether the sanctions will target Hezbollah's allies in Lebanon. The U.S. has been increasing pressure on Hezbollah and earlier this month imposed sanctions on two Hezbollah officials and offered millions of dollars for information leading to their capture.

Joseph Torbey, head of Association of Banks in Lebanon, told reporters that U.S. 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 through its meetings with U.S. officials and bankers "to shield the Lebanese economy from negative repercussions resulting from the new laws."

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

Washington considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization 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, Hezbollah's main backer that has been supplying the group with weapons and money for more than three decades.

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Hezbollah 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 organizations that provide services in areas where it enjoys popular support.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh 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 Hezbollah's "international terrorism branch."

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

On Oct. 13, U.S. President Donald Trump noted in a speech that terrorist attacks against Americans and American allies were committed by Iranian proxies including Hezbollah.