May 25, 2018 / 6:07 PM / 3 months ago

RPT-UPDATE 2-Hezbollah urges supporters to stand firm in face of U.S. sanctions

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BEIRUT, May 25 (Reuters) - The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah urged supporters on Friday to stand firm in the face of U.S. sanctions targeting the Iran-backed Shi’ite movement and brace for more pressure.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also vowed to mount a campaign against corruption in the Lebanese state and warned it would face financial collapse if it did not tackle waste.

In elections this month, Hezbollah along with parties and politicians that endorse its possession of arms gained sway in parliament. Western-backed Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri will now form Lebanon’s next coalition government to contain the main parties including Hezbollah.

Washington has sought to choke off Hezbollah funding, with sanctions among a slew of fresh measures against Tehran since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.

The United States imposed sanctions last week on Hezbollah’s representative to Iran, as well as a financier and five companies in Europe, West Africa and the Middle East. Washington and Gulf partners also announced more sanctions on Hezbollah leadership, including its top two officials, Nasrallah and Naim Qassem.

Nasrallah called the sanctions “part of the battle” and said they would not impact its leadership but could harm its backers.

“When they (sanction) Lebanese companies or organizations ... of course, this is very harmful, and so nobody should underestimate it,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech marking the anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from occupied parts of south Lebanon in 2000.

He said the Lebanese government was responsible for citizens hit by the sanctions and must not turn its back on them.

Nasrallah warned of the United States and its allies ramping up pressure in the future, but said such steps would yield no result. He described harm that supporters and financiers may face as “a sacrifice”.

He said the sanctions would not affect the formation of a new government set to start next week.

After Lebanon’s first legislative vote in nine years, the dire economic situation and unsustainable public debt levels are top priorities for the next government.

Lebanon is the world’s third-most indebted nation with a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 150 percent.

Nasrallah pledged that Hezbollah would launch a “serious, strategic, and major” campaign to fight corruption. “We did not offer blood and liberate lands...for our country to go bankrupt and collapse.” (Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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