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Lebanon summons US ambassador over Hezbollah remarks

Lebanon has summoned the US ambassador over Hezbollah remarks [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 June, 2020

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Lebanon's foreign ministry has summoned its US ambassador over Hezbollah remarks.

Lebanon's foreign ministry has summoned the US ambassador over her recent criticism of Hezbollah, a day after a judge banned local media from covering her future remarks, state media said Sunday.

Foreign minister Nassif Hitti "has summoned US ambassador Dorothy Shea for a meeting tomorrow (Monday) at 15:00 (12:00 GMT) in light of her latest statements," said a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency on Sunday.

During an interview with Saudi-owned news channel Al-Hadath aired on Friday, Dorothy Shea said the United States has "grave concerns about the role of Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organisation".

"It has syphoned off billions of dollars that should have gone into government coffers so that the government can provide basic services to its people," she said.

"It has obstructed some of the economic reforms the Lebanese economy so desperately needs," she added. 

On Saturday, a judge in the southern city of Tyre issued an order banning local and foreign media working in the country from airing or publishing locally comments by Shea for a year because of her remarks on Hezbollah.

The Lebanese Shia movement and its allies command a majority in parliament and the cabinet.

Judge Mohamad Mazeh said Shea's comments incited sectarian strife and serve to "turn the Lebanese people against each other."

Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah on Sunday condemned the ambassador's "hostile behaviour" saying her remarks constitute an "attack" on the country's "sovereignty and dignity."

He called on Lebanese authorities and especially the foreign ministry to "compel the ambassador to respect international treaties that define the duties of diplomats."

The State Department issued a  fiery response to the judge's order on Saturday, stating: "Hezbollah's attempt to silence the Lebanese media is pathetic."

But Lebanon's Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad dismissed the judge's order, saying "no one has the right to ban the media from covering the news."

Local broadcaster LBC said it would not abide by the ruling, calling it a "non-binding and unenforceable" decision that violates freedom of press.

A senior judicial source told AFP that Mazeh had "overstepped his prerogatives as a judge."

Mazeh responded to the criticism on Sunday, saying his "conscious is clear" and that he is "fully convinced" that his decision was correct.

He said, however, that he is ready to resign if he is referred for judicial review after Lebanese media reports claimed that judicial authorities were planning to look into his professional conduct.

The dispute comes as Lebanon grapples with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

The Lebanese pound has nosedived against the dollar on the black market, sending prices soaring.

Hezbollah has blamed Washington for the economic downturn, accusing it of preventing dollars from entering the cash-strapped country.

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