February 21, 2019 / 3:22 PM / 6 months ago

Hezbollah hits back at U.S. criticism of its role in Lebanon

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hezbollah hit back against U.S. condemnation of its role in Lebanon on Thursday, calling it a “violation of sovereignty”, after the United States expressed concern over the organisation’s expanding influence.

After meeting Lebanon’s prime minister on Tuesday, the U.S. ambassador said the United States was worried about the “growing role” in the cabinet of Hezbollah, an armed Shi’ite group backed by Iran and listed as a terrorist organisation by Washington.

“The negative American position on Hezbollah, and which American ambassadors are eager to repeat after meeting any official in Lebanon, is rejected and condemned,” Hezbollah’s lawmakers said in a statement.

They said U.S. stance “violates national sovereignty and ignores a legitimate right in international law - the right to self defence and to resist every threat and aggression” and was biased towards “the terrorist entity” - a reference to Israel.

Hezbollah controls three of the 30 ministries in Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s new cabinet, the largest number it has ever held. They include the Health Ministry, which has the fourth-largest budget in the state.

Set up in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah last fought a major war with Israel, its lifelong enemy, in 2006.

Its regional clout has expanded through deployments of fighters to other Mideast conflicts, including the war in neighbouring Syria, where it has fought in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

Together with groups and individuals that see its arsenal as an asset to Lebanon, Hezbollah won more than 70 of the 128 seats in parliament in an election last year. Hariri, who is backed by the West, lost more than a third of his MPs.

(This version of the story has been refiled to remove inadvertently repeated “on Thursday” in first paragraph)

Writing by Tom Perry, editing by Larry King

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