WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday sanctioned Lebanon-based Jammal Trust Bank SAL and its subsidiaries for allegedly facilitating the financial activities of Hezbollah, according to the Treasury Department, which said the bank funnels money to the families of suicide bombers.
The United States is determined to cut off support in Lebanon for the group, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement, adding that "Jammal Trust’s misconduct undermines the integrity of the Lebanese financial system."
Since 1997, the United States has labelled Hezbollah a terrorist group, saying it threatens the peace and stability of the Middle East and is backed by Iran. Jammal Trust is a 50-year-old commercial bank with branches throughout Lebanon, according to its website.
A senior administration official, in a conference call with reporters laying out the sanctions, said: "We do have a very good relationship with the central bank of Lebanon and we have confidence that they'll take the right action here."
"It sends the message loud and clear that the United States is very serious about disrupting terrorist activity and will continue to take action where we believe it’s warranted," the official said.
But the Lebanese association of banks said it regretted the decision. In a statement cited by local media, the association said the move would not affect Lebanon’s banking sector and reassured depositors their money in the bank would be fine.
U.S. ally Israel welcomed the sanctions against Jammal Trust and called on other countries to follow suit. "This is an important move designed to generate pressure on Iran and its proxies, which operate against the State of Israel," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
Separately, the United States sanctioned four individuals for moving money from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Hamas through Hezbollah.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Ellen Francis and Dan Williams; editing by Tom Brown and Leslie Adler)