BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Lebanon on Thursday that the Iran-backed Hezbollah group’s rising arsenal and involvement in regional conflicts threatened Lebanon’s safety.
Speaking alongside Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in a Beirut information convention, Tillerson additionally mentioned the United States was participating with Lebanon and Israel to guarantee their border remained calm.
Israel regards Hezbollah as the most important direct threat on its borders and has repeatedly struck it in Syria, the place the group is combating alongside President Bashar al-Assad in a civil conflict now getting into its eighth yr.
The Trump administration has taken a hardline place on Iran and has sanctioned a number of folks and entities related to Hezbollah in current weeks as a part of an effort to improve stress on Iran.
The closely armed Shi‘ite motion is a part of the Lebanese coalition authorities led by Sunni Muslim politician Hariri, beneath a complicated political system that promotes sectarian power-sharing.
“Hezbollah is not just a concern for the United States. The people of Lebanon should also be concerned about how Hezbollah’s actions and its growing arsenal bring unwanted and unhelpful scrutiny on Lebanon,” Tillerson mentioned.
“Hebollah’s entanglement in regional conflicts threatens the security of Lebanon,” he added.
Hezbollah has all the time rejected any demand that it surrender its weapons, which it says are essential to defend Lebanon in opposition to Israel. It has mentioned its role in Syria is wanted to cease any Sunni militant threat to Lebanon, and mentioned in January it believes the conflict there can be over in a single or two years.
Tillerson’s go to, the primary by a U.S. Secretary of State to Lebanon since 2014, bought off to an ungainly begin as he waited a number of minutes in Baabda Palace for his assembly with President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally.
The Lebanese president’s workplace denied any departure from diplomatic protocol and mentioned Tillerson had arrived a jiffy early. Footage of him ready aired on some Arabic TV channels all through the day. Aoun later mentioned Tillerson had listened and understood the Lebanese place relating to the Israeli border.
Israeli-Lebanese tensions have spiked in current months due to Israeli plans to construct a wall on the border, and due to Lebanon’s choice to start exploring for oil and gasoline in an offshore block in disputed waters.
Hezbollah, which the United States deems a terrorist group, has elevated its navy energy because the final main battle with Israel in 2006.
Tillerson urged Lebanese leaders to uphold the nation’s dedication to staying out of regional conflicts.
Israel has accused Iran of in search of to arrange weapons factories in Lebanon, and the Israeli navy final month mentioned the nation had was one “large missile factory”.
Lebanon is a large recipient of U.S. navy help. Tillerson mentioned Washington remained dedicated to supporting the Lebanese military and inner safety forces.
When requested in regards to the maritime border dispute with Israel, together with Lebanese media studies that Washington had requested Beirut to surrender a portion of sea it claims, Tillerson denied the studies.
“We will continue to be very engaged with both parties. We’ve asked no one to give up anything, rather we are looking for a solution,” he mentioned. “We are engaging the governments of both Lebanon and Israel to ensure Lebanon’s southern border remains calm.”
Reporting by Yara Bayoumy and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Tom Perry, Angus McDowall and Peter Graff