Lebanon’s foreign minister summons U.S. ambassador over Hezbollah comments
Public criticism of the militant Hezbollah group by the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon is being met with strong backlash.
Lebanon’s foreign minister has summoned Ambassador Dorothy Shea to appear Monday over the comments, the state-run National News Agency reported Sunday. And in Hezbollah’s stronghold south of Beirut, some 500 protesters paraded through the streets on foot and motorcycles, chanting: “Oh America, you are the great Satan.”
Local media said Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti will tell Shea that, according to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, an ambassador has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of another country and should not incite the Lebanese people against one another.
On Saturday, a Lebanese judge banned local and foreign media outlets in the country from interviewing the ambassador for a year, saying her criticism of Hezbollah was seditious and a threat to social peace. The judge’s ruling came a day after Shea told Saudi-owned TV station Al-Hadath that Washington has “great concerns” over Hezbollah’s role in the government.
Since the judge’s ban was imposed, several local TV stations aired fresh comments from Shea in which she described the decision as “unfortunate.” She added that a senior Lebanese government official, whom she did not name, apologized to her.
“I was contacted yesterday afternoon by a very high-ranking and well-placed official in the Lebanese government, and this official expressed apologies, conveyed that this ruling did not have proper standing,” Shea told a local station Sunday. Shea added that the official told her the government “will take the necessary step to reverse it.”
The court decision, in a nation with one of the Arab world’s freer media landscapes, reflected the rising tension between the U.S. and Hezbollah. It also revealed a widening rift among groups in Lebanon, which is facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history.
Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah on Sunday called Shea’s comments “a flagrant aggression on the sovereignty of our country and its national dignity.” He called on the foreign ministry to force the ambassador to “respect international law.”
Lebanon is gripped by a deepening financial crisis, and talks with the International Monetary Fund for assistance have been complicated by political infighting. The local currency has lost more than 80% of its value in recent months.
Shea said Lebanon is reeling from years of corruption of successive governments and accused Hezbollah of siphoning off government funds for its own purposes and of obstructing needed economic reforms.
In southern Beirut, some protesters blamed American sanctions on Hezbollah and neighboring Syria for the crash of the currency, which is throwing more Lebanese into poverty.
“No matter how hungry we are, and how much in need we are, at least we have dignity,” said protester Ahmad Jawad, referring to Hezbollah’s defiance of the U.S.
Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group, and its allies are dominant in parliament and back the current government. Hezbollah is designated by Washington as a terrorist group, and the U.S. has continued to expand sanctions against it.
However, Washington is one of the largest donors to the Lebanese army, making for one of the more complicated diplomatic balancing acts in the region.
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