March 14, 2016 / 9:41 AM / 4 years ago

Bahrain deports several Lebanese over Hezbollah links

RIYADH (Reuters) - Bahrain has deported several Lebanese residents who it believes had links to or supported the Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah, which Gulf Arab states have declared a terrorist organization, its Interior Ministry said on Twitter on Monday.

Bahrain’s larger Gulf Arab ally Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it would punish anybody who belonged to the Iran-backed Lebanese group, which Manama has accused, alongside Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards, of fomenting strife in the island kingdom.

The move came after Gulf Arab countries declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization, raising the possibility of further sanctions against the group, which wields influence in Lebanon and fights alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia said it would punish anyone who belonged to Iranian-backed Hezbollah, sympathizes with it, supports it financially or harbors any of its members.

Hezbollah has close ties to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s rival for power in the region. Saudi Arabia supports Syrian opposition groups working to topple Assad and criticizes Iran and Hezbollah for helping him retain power after five years of civil war.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has stepped up criticism of Saudi Arabia, accusing it of directing car bombings in Lebanon.

In January, Bahrain said it had caught an Iranian-linked cell plotting attacks on its territory, days after it followed its close ally Saudi Arabia in cutting ties with Iran.

Reporting By Angus McDowall/Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Ralph Boulton

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