Lebanon, Syria Served Notice by U.S. - Diplomats

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Lebanon, Syria Served Notice by U.S. - Diplomats November 8, 2001 10:35 am EST

By Joseph Logan BEIRUT (Reuters) - By demanding a freeze of Hizbollah's assets, Washington has sent its strongest message yet to Lebanon and its power broker Syria that they must pick sides in the war on "terrorism," analysts and diplomats say.

"It's not as if they're hinting at imminent military action, but what is being signaled here is that it's going to be an issue," said one Western diplomat.

The United States last week added the guerrilla group to a list of organizations subject to tight financial restrictions introduced after the September 11 attacks, which include blocking assets of banks that fail to comply.

Hizbollah, which Washington suspects of the 1983 suicide bombing of the U.S. marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 servicemen, has been a fixture on U.S. lists of "terrorist" groups.

The United States also describes Imad Moughniyeh, a Lebanese who appears on a list of most-wanted "terrorists" for his suspected role in hijackings and abductions of American nationals, as a Hizbollah member.

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri, after a lightning trip to Damascus to consult Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on Wednesday told U.S. ambassador to Beirut Vincent Battle that he would not comply with the financial sanctions.

Battle replied that Washington would explore the possibility of U.N. action against Lebanese financial institutions.

Though neither the U.S. view of Hizbollah nor Lebanese and Syrian defense of the group as legitimate resistance to Israel are new, the threat of punitive economic sanctions raises the stakes locally in the anti-terror campaign.

"The Americans put their cards on the table and said 'What is your position exactly?"' a Western diplomat said.

Since September 11, that position has been unswerving: Hizbollah, whose Iranian and Syrian-backed guerrillas helped end a 22-year Israeli occupation of south Lebanon last year, is not and should not be a target in the anti-terror campaign.

Damascus argues the same holds for radical Palestinian factions it hosts which reject any negotiated settlement with the Jewish state, and says addressing the issue of "terrorism" should start with Israeli occupation of Arab land.


Washington has also been angered by Beirut's failure to rein in Hizbollah by deploying its army along the border with Israel, a move which Lebanese officials say would be tantamount to guaranteeing the security of the Israeli army.

The implication of the U.S. request, all agreed, are simple: if Lebanon fails to comply, it faces the threat of damage to its banking sector, which Hariri hopes can draw investors to back Lebanon's economic recovery from its 15-year civil war.

His personal and business ties to Gulf Arab investors and the Lebanese diaspora, as well as a tradition of banking secrecy that has made Lebanon a haven for foreign capital, have allowed the country to survive disastrous finances in the meantime.

Hariri himself has ventured indirect criticism of Hizbollah's low-grade war in the Shebaa Farms as a stumbling block to economic health, but no Lebanese politician swallows Washington's designation of the group as "terrorist."

The group, with guidance from Iran, has worked its way into the Lebanese political establishment, boasting a bloc of deputies in parliament, as well as a broadcast wing and a network of schools and charitable organizations.

"There is still enough time to reach a solution or some kind of understanding," said George Alam, a political commentator with Beirut's As-Safir newspaper.

"But there's no denying that the confrontation has begun and that it won't be easy, particularly since it's going under the slogan of 'Either Hizbollah or bankruptcy,"' Alam said.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), November 08, 2001



-- jimmie-the-weed (thinkasur@aol.com), November 08, 2001.

"The United States last week added the guerrilla group to a list of organizations subject to tight financial restrictions introduced after the September 11 attacks, which include blocking assets of banks that fail to comply. "

Someone help me out here. Exactly what authorizes the executive branch of our government to freeze anyone's bank accounts without a court order? And what prevents the executive branch from freezing assets of domestic organizations it just doesn't like?

-- neil (nmruggles@earthlink.net), November 08, 2001.

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