US envoy voices concern over Hezbollah's role in Lebanese cabinet
BEIRUT — The US ambassador to Lebanon expressed concerns over the militant Hezbollah group's growing role in the new cabinet, saying it does not contribute to stability.
Hezbollah has named a health minister and two other posts in Lebanon's cabinet. US officials have called on Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri's new government to ensure the group does not receive support from public resources.
At a meeting with Hariri on February 19, Ambassador Elizabeth Richard said the Iran-backed Hezbollah continues to violate Lebanon's policy of non-involvement in regional conflicts by fighting in "at least three countries."
She was apparently referring to Syria, where the group fights alongside the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and Iraq and Yemen, where Iran supports local armed groups.
"I was also very frank with the prime minister about US concern over the growing role in the cabinet of an organization that continues to maintain a militia that is not under the control of the government," Richard told reporters after the meeting.
She added that Hezbollah continues to make its own "national security decisions" that "endanger the rest of the country."
The US views Hezbollah as a terrorist group, but is a strong supporter of Lebanon's national army, supplying it with arms worth hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years. Last week, the American Embassy said the US had delivered laser-guided rockets valued at more than $16 million to the Lebanese army.
Richard said last year alone, the United States provided more than $825 million in assistance, an increase from the year before. She said the US has also supported education and development programs to help Lebanese communities "deal with the unprecedented demands placed on them when their Syrian neighbours fled."
Lebanon is home to about a million Syrian refugees — a quarter of the tiny Mediterranean country's population — putting pressure on its crumbling infrastructure.
Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib briefed President Michel Aoun and Hariri on February 19 about his visit to Syria the previous day, telling reporters that Syrian officials "were very positive and showed interest in facilitating" refugees' return.