Iran is supplying proxies in Syria, Iraq also stockpiling ballistic missiles

Revelations 6:3-4 “ when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

Important Takeaways:

  • Iran has 3,000 ballistic missiles, many that can reach Israel – US general
  • In Gen. Kenneth McKenzie’s written statement, he called Iran’s missile force the greatest threat to the region’s security.
  • “At a military level my concern is first of all that they do not have a nuclear weapon but I am also very concerned about the remarkable growth and efficiency of their ballistic missile program,” McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
  • “They have over 3,000 missiles of various types, some of which can reach Tel Aviv,” McKenzie said in response to a query by the senate committee. “None of them can reach Europe yet.”
  • US CENTCOM assessed…Syria and Iraq will continue to be used as supply routes and hubs to forward its “campaign against Israel.”
  • This is in part to arm its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah. It was estimated last year that Hezbollah has 130,000-150,000 rockets that can reach deep into Israeli territory. This arms stockpile also includes Iranian ballistic missiles.
  • He said that the US remains steadfast in its commitment to Israel’s security and to support Israel’s right to defend itself

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Syria denounces Israeli plans to double number of Golan settlers

BEIRUT (Reuters) -Syria on Monday condemned Israeli plans to double within five years the number of Jewish settlers in the Golan Heights captured from Syria in 1967 as a “dangerous and unprecedented escalation,” Syrian state media reported.

Israel’s cabinet approved a blueprint on Sunday to build some 7,300 additional housing units on the strategic plateau in a move that could tighten its hold on the territory.

“Syria strongly condemns the dangerous and unprecedented escalation by the Israeli occupation authorities” in the Golan, the state-run SANA news agency said, adding Damascus would seek to use all legally available means to retake the territory.

Speaking to Syrian TV station al-Ekhbariya, foreign minister Faisal Mekdad called Israel’s actions against Syria “criminal” and said they violated the 1981 U.N. Resolution 497 declaring Israel’s effective annexation of the Golan as “null and void.”

Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it describes as Iranian targets in Syria, where Tehran-backed forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah have deployed over the last decade to support President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s war.

Israel annexed the 1,200-square-kilometre (460-square-mile) Golan Heights in 1981, an action not recognized by the international community. Syria demands the return of the Golan, which also overlooks Lebanon and borders Jordan.

(Reporting by Omar FahmyAdditional reporting by Lilian Wagdy Writing by Ahmad Elhamy in Cairo and Timour Azhari in Beirut; Editing by Howard Goller)

Lebanon’s Aoun calls for defense dialogue, hinting at friction with Hezbollah

BEIRUT (Reuters) -Lebanese President Michel Aoun called on Monday for national dialogue on matters including a defense strategy which he said it was the state’s responsibility alone to implement, hinting at friction with his allies in the heavily armed Hezbollah.

In a televised speech, Aoun also said he wanted the best ties with Gulf Arab states, asking why relations were being put under strain following comments by a Hezbollah-aligned minister on the Yemen war that triggered a diplomatic crisis in October.

The alliance between Aoun, a Maronite Christian, and the Iran-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah has shaped Lebanese politics for 16 years.

But tensions have surfaced of late, pointing to the possibility of realignments ahead of a May parliamentary election in which Hezbollah’s adversaries hope to overturn the majority won by the group and its allies in 2018.

The new parliament will elect a new head of state next year.

Hezbollah helped propel Aoun to the presidency in 2016, while the president and his Free Patriotic Movement have provided vital political support for Hezbollah’s possession of an arsenal more powerful than the Lebanese army’s.

Aoun is nearing the end of his six-year term with Lebanon in the throes of what the World Bank has called one of the sharpest economic meltdowns ever recorded.

Warning the state was “falling apart,” Aoun called for urgent dialogue on a financial recovery plan, administrative and financial decentralization, and the defense strategy.

“It is true that defending the nation requires cooperation between the army, the people and the resistance, but the main responsibility is the state’s. The state alone puts in place the defense strategy and attends to its implementation,” Aoun said in a televised speech, without naming Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s opponents have long said its arsenal has undermined the state, embroiled Lebanon in regional conflicts, and damaged ties with wealthy Gulf Arab states that once invested heavily in Beirut but have shunned it for years.

Hezbollah, formed in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, says its weapons are vital to defending Lebanon from Israel. It also says its fighters shielded Lebanon from jihadists such Islamic State in Syria.

Aoun said: “I wish for the best relations with the Arab states, specifically the Gulf states. I ask: what is the justification for straining ties with these states and interfering in matters that do not concern us.”

He also said it was imperative that the government convene after going more than two months without a meeting.

Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally Amal want the judge leading the probe into the 2020 Beirut port explosion removed and have refused to allow cabinet to meet until the issue is on the agenda. Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said the issue falls outside cabinet’s powers.

(Reporting by Lilian Wagdy and Laila Bassam; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Alison Williams)

Deadly shooting rocks Beirut as tensions over blast probe erupt

By Maha El Dahan, Tom Perry and Laila Bassam

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Six Shi’ites were shot dead in Beirut on Thursday, in an attack on supporters of Hezbollah and its ally who were gathering to demand the removal of the judge investigating the explosion that ripped through the city’s port last year.

The shooting, which took place on a frontline of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war and evoked scenes reminiscent of that conflict, marks the deadliest civil violence in Beirut since 2008.

It also highlights a deepening crisis over the probe into the catastrophic August 2020 explosion that is undermining government efforts to tackle one of the most dramatic economic meltdowns in history.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally, the Shi’ite Amal Movement, accused the Lebanese Forces (LF), a Christian party that has close ties to Saudi Arabia, of mounting the attack.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said snipers had opened fire and aimed at people’s heads.

The LF denied any involvement and condemned the violence, which it blamed on Hezbollah “incitement” against Judge Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator into the port blast, which killed 200 people, wounded thousands and devastated swathes of Beirut.

Coming after repeated warnings from Hezbollah and its allies that continuing Bitar’s probe would split the country, the violence may create a pretext to shut down or shelve further investigation into the explosion.

LF leader Samir Geagea, whose group had a powerful militia in the war, said earlier that the shooting was the result of uncontrolled weapons in society, saying civil peace must be preserved.

During the attack, local television stations broadcast footage of bullets bouncing off buildings and people running for cover. One of the dead was a woman who was struck by a bullet while in her home, a military source said.

At a nearby school, teachers instructed infant children to lie face down on the ground with their hands on their heads, a Reuters witness said. A lifeless body was dragged from the street by bystanders in footage broadcast by al-Jadeed TV.

The army said in a statement the gunfire had targeted protesters as they passed through the Teyouneh traffic circle located in an area dividing Christian and Shi’ite Muslim neighborhoods.

The shooting began from the Christian neighborhood of Ain el-Remmaneh, from where the civil war was set off, before spiraling into an exchange of fire, a military source said.

Interior Minister Mawlawi said all the dead were from one side, meaning Shi’ites.

Hezbollah and the Amal Movement said groups had fired at protesters from rooftops, aiming at their heads in an attack they said aimed to drag Lebanon into conflict.

As Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for calm, the army deployed heavily in the area around Teyouneh and said it would open fire against any armed person on the road.

Bursts of gunfire were heard for hours.

U.S., FRANCE URGE IMPARTIAL PROBE

The United States and France said the Lebanese judiciary needed to allowed to investigate the port explosion in an independent and impartial manner.

“The Lebanese people deserve no less and the victims and families of those lost in the port blast deserve no less,” U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said during a visit to Beirut.

“Today’s unacceptable violence makes clear what the stakes are,” said Nuland, in comments echoed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Judge Bitar has sought to question a number of senior politicians and security officials, including Hezbollah allies, suspected of negligence that led to the port explosion, caused by a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate and one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts on record.

All have denied wrongdoing.

Hezbollah has led calls for Bitar’s removal, accusing him of bias.

On Wednesday, Geagea rejected what he described as any submission to “intimidation” by Hezbollah over Bitar, calling on Lebanese to be ready for peaceful strike action if the “other side” tried to impose its will by force.

The standoff over Bitar’s investigation is diverting the newly formed government’s attention away from addressing a deepening economic crisis, which has plunged more than three quarters of Lebanese into poverty.

Though none of its members have been targeted by the probe, Hezbollah has accused Bitar of conducting a politicized investigation only focused on certain people.

These include some of its closest allies, among them senior figures in the Shi’ite Amal Movement who occupied ministerial posts, including former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil who told al-Mayadeen TV this week the path of the probe threatened to push Lebanon “towards civil strife”.

A court earlier on Thursday dismissed a legal complaint against Bitar, documents showed, allowing him to resume his investigation.

The violence is the worst since 2008 when followers of the Sunni-led government fought battles in Beirut with gunmen loyal to Hezbollah which took the streets until the government rescinded decisions affecting Hezbollah, including taking steps against a telecommunications network operated by the group.

(Reporting By Maha El Dahan, Alaa Kanaan, Laila Bassam, Mohamed Azakir, Tom Perry; Writing By Tom Perry; Editing by John Stonestreet and Samia Nakhoul)

Beirut blast probe faces derailment for second time

BEIRUT (Reuters) -A probe into the catastrophic Beirut port explosion faced the risk of being derailed for the second time this year on Monday when a senior politician wanted for questioning filed a complaint doubting the lead investigator’s impartiality.

The move followed a smear campaign by Lebanon’s political class against Judge Tarek Bitar, who was appointed after his predecessor was forced out following similar accusations by officials he wanted to question about suspected negligence.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati expressed hope Bitar would continue in his role, saying Lebanon could not bear the removal of a second judge after the complaint led to the probe being frozen pending a court ruling.

In an apparent show of support for Bitar, Mikati told broadcaster LBCI he had heard Bitar was above all suspicion and that security precautions had been taken regarding threats that were said to have been made against at him, though Mikati said the decision to freeze the probe was a judicial matter.

More than a year since the blast, attempts to bring any senior official to account for the more than 200 lives lost and thousands injured have made no progress, with powerful parties including the Shi’ite group Hezbollah and others in the ruling elite alleging bias in the investigation.

The probe was frozen on Monday on the basis of the complaint by Nohad Machnouk, a Sunni Muslim lawmaker and former interior minister Bitar wanted to question on suspicion of negligence.

The blast, one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, was caused by a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate that was unsafely stored at the port from 2013.

A judicial source told Reuters the investigation must now remain on hold until the court of cassation decides either to accept or reject the complaint.

“There is great anger among the families. There is a type of disgust towards the political class,” said Ibrahim Hoteit, a spokesperson for victims’ families whose brother was killed in the blast, responding to Monday’s move.

The families, who accuse Lebanon’s entrenched political class of impunity, have demanded an international probe, saying every time the investigation begins it gets blocked.

“It’s clear they are using all legal means and immunities to stop the investigation,” said Nizar Saghieh, head of The Legal Agenda, a research and advocacy organization. “The impunity system is defending itself in an ugly way without boundaries.”

Bitar has faced opposition since July, with politicians refusing to waive the immunity of several former ministers and security officials the judge wanted to investigate.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah last month accused Bitar of “playing politics” and called the probe “politicized”.

Bitar’s predecessor, judge Fadi Sawan, was removed after a similar complaint from two former ministers he had charged.

Bitar had issued requests in July to question former prime minister Hassan Diab and other top officials charged by his predecessor with negligence over the blast.

All have denied wrongdoing.

On Sept. 16, he issued an arrest warrant for former public works minister Youssef Finianos after he failed to show up for questioning, the first against a top official in the case.

A document seen by Reuters and sent just over two weeks before the blast showed the president and prime minister were warned about the risks posed by the chemicals and that they could destroy the capital.

(Reporting By Laila Bassam and Maha El Dahan; Editing by Jon Boyle, Tom Perry, David Evans, William Maclean and Jonathan Oatis)

Lebanon in free fall, must not become ‘horror story,’ U.S. senator warns

By Maha El Dahan

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon is in free fall and must not become a “horror story,” a U.S. senator said during a visit to Beirut on Wednesday, voicing hope that a government would be formed this week to start addressing its destabilizing financial meltdown.

The comment reflected growing concern about the situation in Lebanon, where a financial collapse that began in 2019 hit a crunch point last month with a crippling fuel shortage that sparked security incidents and warnings of worse to come.

Another senator in the U.S. congressional delegation said Iranian fuel being shipped to Lebanon by the heavily armed Shi’ite group Hezbollah would come with strings attached, dismissing it as an attempted “photo-op by the Iranians.”

The financial crisis marks the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-90 civil war.

More than half of Lebanon’s 6 million people have fallen into poverty. The World Bank says it is one of the sharpest depressions of modern times, with the currency plunging more than 90% and the financial system paralyzed.

“Lebanon is in free fall…We’ve seen this movie before and it’s a horror story…, but the good news is it can, should, and hopefully will be avoided,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters at the end of a two-day visit.

Lebanese politicians, who have failed to do anything to arrest the collapse, have been squabbling for more than a year over the make-up of a new cabinet to replace the one that quit in the aftermath of the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion.

A new cabinet capable of implementing reforms is a necessary precursor to foreign aid. The United States is the biggest foreign aid donor to Lebanon.

The congressional delegation met Lebanese leaders including President Michel Aoun, the Maronite Christian head of state, who expressed hope the government would be formed this week, the presidency said in a statement.

Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, has on several occasions expressed optimism about the government being agreed soon.

“We did hear good news today,” Senator Chris Murphy, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee panel dealing with the Middle East, told reporters, adding he expected a government would be formed by the time he returned home.

Aoun’s adversaries accuse him and his faction, the Free Patriotic Movement, of obstructing the government formation by demanding a third of the seats, or effective veto power.

Aoun denies this. Aoun told the senators “many obstacles had been overcome,” the presidency said.

‘STRINGS ATTACHED’

With the state floundering, Hezbollah, long part of the ruling system, last month announced it was importing fuel oil from Iran, saying it aims to ease the crisis. Its adversaries have said this further undermined the authority of the state and exposed Lebanon to the risk of U.S. sanctions.

Washington designates Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Lebanon’s caretaker energy minister said on Wednesday that an import permit had not been requested for the fuel shipment.

The United States has been in talks with Egypt and Jordan over a plan to ease Lebanon’s power crisis. The Lebanese presidency has said it involves using Egyptian gas to generate power in Jordan that would be transmitted via Syria, which is under U.S. sanctions including the so-called Caesar act.

“The complication as you know is the transport via Syria,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen. “We are (urgently) looking for ways to address that despite the Caesar act.”

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Biden and Israeli PM set to discuss Iran strategy at meeting next week

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Maayan Lubell

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Stalled nuclear talks with Iran will be at the top of the agenda when U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meet next week.

“The President and Prime Minister Bennett will discuss critical issues related to regional and global security, including Iran,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a statement announcing the leaders’ first in-person meeting at the White House on Aug. 26.

Talks between Tehran and six world powers to revive the nuclear pact ditched three years ago by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump have stalled since they began in April.

The Israeli leader, a nationalist atop a cross-partisan coalition who took office in June, opposes the deal being revived. It views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat.

Tehran denies seeking the bomb, though a U.N. atomic watchdog report on Tuesday seen by Reuters showed the country accelerating its enrichment of uranium to near weapons-grade.

Regional tensions rose over a July 29 attack on an Israeli-managed tanker off the coast of Oman that Israel, the United States and Britain blamed on Tehran. Iran denied any involvement in the suspected drone strike in which two crew members were killed.

Conflict has also flared between Israel and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.

The White House meeting will come less than three weeks after U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns held talks in Israel with Bennett on Iran.

Bennett said at a news conference that the meeting “will focus on Iran” but the White House also touted “an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss efforts to advance peace, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.”

The Israeli leader said he planned to come to the meeting “very focused with a policy of partnership that aims to curb Iran’s destabilizing, negative regional activity, its human rights abuses, terrorism and preventing its nearing nuclear breakout.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by David Holmes and Marguerita Choy)

Prominent Hezbollah critic killed in Lebanon

By Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A prominent Lebanese Shi’ite publisher who criticized the armed Hezbollah movement was shot dead in a car in southern Lebanon on Thursday, the first such killing of a high-profile activist in years.

A judge following the case said the body of Lokman Slim had four bullets in the head and one in the back. A security source said his phone was found on the side of a road.

They said the motive remained unclear.

Slim, who was in his late 50s, ran a research center, made documentaries with his wife and led efforts to build an archive on Lebanon’s 1975-1990 sectarian civil war.

He spoke against what he described as the Iranian-backed, Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah’s intimidation tactics and attempts to monopolies Lebanese politics.

His sister suggested Slim was murdered because of this. He was last seen after visiting a poet friend. His wife said he went missing overnight and did not answer his phone.

Hezbollah did not respond to a request for comment on his death, which the French ambassador and Lebanese officials, including the president, called “an assassination.”

Amnesty International, a top U.N. diplomat in Lebanon and the EU ambassador to the country, Ralph Tarraf, all demanded an investigation. “We deplore the prevailing culture of impunity,” Tarraf wrote in a tweet.

A Lebanese press freedom center, SKeyes, said it feared a cover-up of the crime and more attempts to eliminate “symbols of free political thought.”

The center was founded after a car bomb killed journalist Samir Kassir in 2005, at a time when a series of assassinations hit Lebanon targeting critics of Syria’s 15-year domination.

At Slim’s family home in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where Hezbollah holds sway, family members sat in shock. Some wept in silence. A relative said they found out about his death from a news alert while at a police station.

“What a big loss. And they lost a noble enemy too … It’s rare for someone to argue with them and live among them with respect,” his sister Rasha told reporters, without naming Hezbollah.

She said he had not mentioned any threats. “Killing is the only language they are fluent in,” she added. “I don’t know how we will go on with our work … It will be hard.”

‘A BIG LOSS’

In an interview last month on Saudi’s al-Hadath TV, Slim said he believed Damascus and its ally Hezbollah had a role in the port blast that ripped through Beirut in August, killing 200 people and injuring thousands.

Hezbollah has denied any links to the explosion.

President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, said he had ordered an investigation into the crime.

Slim’s criticism of Hezbollah faced rebuke from its supporters, who called him “an embassy Shi’ite,” accusing him of being a tool of the United States.

Washington, which classifies Hezbollah as terrorists, has ramped up sanctions against it to pressure Tehran.

Slim founded a nonprofit to promote civil liberties which received a grant under the U.S. Middle East Partnership Initiative and worked with an American think tank, leaked WikiLeaks diplomatic cables said in 2008.

In late 2019, Slim said people had gathered in his garden, chanting slurs and threats. His statement held Hezbollah’s leader responsible.

At the time, Slim also said he had received death threats after speaking in a debate at a Beirut camp that activists set up when protests against all the country’s political leaders swept Lebanon.

“His murder is a very big loss for Lebanon, for culture,” said Hazem Saghieh, a well-known Lebanese journalist. “He was one of a few who only knew how to speak his mind.”

(Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan, Alaa Kanaan and Beirut TV; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by William Maclean, Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

Israel launches major air strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) – Israel launched an air attack against Iranian-linked targets in Syria near the main border crossing to Iraq in the early hours of Wednesday, one of the biggest strikes yet in a campaign that has escalated in the Trump administration’s final weeks.

Israel has been stepping up strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, part of aggressive posture adopted before President-elect Joe Biden takes office next week in what could bring a reassessment of Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy on Iran.

Syrian news agency SANA and Syrian state media said Israel had struck sites in Al Bukamal, the Syrian city that controls the border checkpoint on the main Baghdad-Damascus highway. The highway is part of the main over ground supply route linking Iran to its proxy fighters in Syria and Lebanon.

The Syrian reports also said Israeli strikes had hit areas in Deir al Zor province, where Iranian-backed militias and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards fighters have a heavy presence.

Two residents in the regional capital Deir al Zor City told Reuters they could hear the distant sound of huge explosions, apparently from arms depots destroyed in the raids.

Israel’s military did not immediately comment. Tzachi Hanegbi, an Israeli government minister, told Israeli radio he would not discuss the specific reports, but that Israel hit Iranian targets in Syria “whenever our intelligence dictates it and according to our operational capability.”

The United States has a small number of troops at Tanf, a base in Syria near Al Bukamal, the main city struck by Wednesday’s Israeli raid. Western intelligence sources say Israel’s stepped up strikes on Syria in the last few months are part of a shadow war approved by the Trump administration.

Israel’s Defense Force Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said last month that missile strikes had “slowed down Iran’s entrenchment in Syria” adding they had hit more than 500 targets in 2020.

Israel has said its goal is to end Tehran’s military presence, which Western intelligence sources say has expanded in Syria in recent years.

A regional intelligence source said the targets included Syrian security compounds inside Al Bukamal and Deir Zor, while in the past raids had struck only the cities’ outskirts.

The latest raids were notable for having hit “advanced weaponry and weapons depots … in a large combat arena,” the regional intelligence source said.

Iran’s proxy militias led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah now hold sway over vast areas in eastern, southern and northwestern Syria, as well as several suburbs around Damascus. They also control Lebanese-Syrian border areas.

(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Suleiman al Khalidi in Amman; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Timothy Heritage)

U.S. envoy: Lebanon’s Bassil was open to breaking ties with Hezbollah

By Laila Bassam

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The U.S. envoy to Lebanon said on Monday that Lebanese Christian politician Gebran Bassil, who has been sanctioned by the United States, had voiced willingness to sever ties with Hezbollah, challenging his assertion that he rejected the idea outright.

Washington on Friday blacklisted Bassil, son-in-law of Lebanon’s president and leader of its biggest Christian bloc, over charges of corruption and ties with the Iran-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah, which Washington deems a terrorist group.

Bassil slammed the sanctions as unjust and politically motivated, saying they were imposed after he refused to submit to a U.S. demand to break ties with Hezbollah as that would risk Lebanon’s national unity and peace.

U.S. Ambassador Dorothy Shea told Lebanon’s Al Jadeed TV that Bassil, in exchanges with her, had “expressed willingness to break with Hezbollah, on certain conditions.

“He actually expressed gratitude that the United States had gotten him to see how the relationship is disadvantageous to the party,” said Shea, without elaborating on the conditions.

Bassil did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

He, along with an array of the political elite, have been the target of mass protests since October 2019 against widely perceived corruption, waste and mismanagement of state funds.

Bassil denied corruption charges and said he would fight the sanctions in U.S. courts and sue for damages. President Michel Aoun said Lebanon would seek evidence from Washington.

“We endeavor to make as much information publicly available as possible when announcing designations, but, as is often the case, some of this information is not releasable,” said Shea, adding that Bassil was welcome to legally contest the blacklisting.

Bassil was sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets human rights abuses and corruption. Shea did not rule out further sanctions against him or others in Lebanon.

Washington in September blacklisted two former Lebanese government ministers it accused of directing political and economic favors to Hezbollah.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Heinrich)