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Congress Pushes New Hezbollah Sanctions as Reports Emerge of Group Helping Syria Attack Lebanese Towns

The Jerusalem Post reported Friday that bipartisan efforts to impose sanctions on Hezbollah were progressing in both chambers of Congress:

Last month, US Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Marco Rubio (R-FLorida), both members of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2014 (HIFPA) in the Senate, following its earlier introduction in the House by US Congressmen Brad Schneider (D-Illinois), Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), Eliot Engel (D-New York) and Ed Royce (R-California.) The bill has quickly attained 280 co-sponsors – a number that more than doubled in a matter of weeks and far exceeds the 218 needed for a majority – in the House of Representatives and 36 in the Senate.

The new bills draw on instruments and tactics developed to target Iran, and would provide the White House “with tools to target and impose sanctions on foreign banks that conduct business with Hezbollah and its enablers.”

Al Monitor’s insidery Congress Pulse had described the moves in early May as aimed at “snuff[ing] out the Shiite militia,” which has been widely blamed for providing critical support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime and for dragging Lebanon into that country’s civil war in the process.

Lebanon’s NOW Media indicated Thursday that roughly forty Hezbollah fighters had been killed fighting around the Syrian city of Rankous. The outlet also published a piece by Beirut-based journalist Nadine Elali updating the situation in Tfail, a Lebanese town that has for months been besieged and bombarded by Hezbollah-backed Syrian forces. Elali conveyed reports indicating that Hezbollah has actively joined the fighting on the side of the Syrians:

Wednesday morning, I received another phone call: it was from another Tfeil resident, who also prefers to remain anonymous. He requested we meet since he wanted to tell me some things he felt he could not say over the phone.

“Battles have been raging for two consecutive nights. Hezbollah forces are in direct battle with the village residents. Hezbollah is fighting Lebanese residents.”

The developments – from endangering the Lebanese banking system to actively assisting in foreign attacks on Lebanese soil – are in tension with years of efforts by Hezbollah to brand itself as a Lebanese organization protecting Lebanese sovereignty. Those characterizations were at times echoed by influential Western foreign policy experts.

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