BEIRUT – A multimillion dollar reward offered by the Trump administration in return for information leading to the arrest of two senior operatives of the Lebanese Hezbollah group is part of ongoing U.S. efforts to “demonize” the group, a Hezbollah official said Wednesday.
The new U.S. measures, including recent sanctions, will not affect Hezbollah’s operational activities, the official told the Associated Press.
He was reacting to the State Department’s announcement Tuesday of a total of $12 million for information leading to the location, arrest or conviction of the two, as part of tougher U.S. action against Iran, the Shiite militant group’s patron.
The rewards are the first offered by the United States for Hezbollah leaders in a decade, and come against the backdrop of heightened U.S.-Iran tensions resulting from President Donald Trump’s threats to scuttle the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
An avowed critic of the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, Trump has called it one of America’s “worst and most one-sided transactions” ever. U.S. officials have said he is looking for ways to pressure Tehran. Under the new policy, the White House is focusing on the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah – two Iran-backed entities that have long elicited scorn from much of the West.
The State Department on Tuesday offered up to $7 million reward for information on Talal Hamiyah, who it says leads Hezbollah’s “international terrorism branch” and has been linked to attacks, hijackings and kidnappings targeting U.S. citizens.
Another $5 million is being offered for information on Fuad Shukr, a member of Hezbollah who runs the group’s military forces in southern Lebanon, where the group is based. The State Department said he played a key role in Hezbollah’s recent military operations in Syria.
The Hezbollah official dismissed the accusations, saying the United States is “the last state” to designate people on terror lists, accusing it of supporting terrorist organizations and sponsoring states and regimes “that have a long history in financing and supporting terrorism.”
“It is part of the continuous efforts to demonize Hezbollah. They are false accusations that will not have any effect on the operational activities of Hezbollah,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with party regulations.
Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria’s ongoing civil war and also has been fighting the Islamic State group both inside Syria and along the Lebanese-Syrian border.