Saudi Arabia to Severely Punish Supporters of Iran-Backed Hezbollah

Shiite Muslims Hezbollah militants stand to attention as hundreds of people gather in a huge hall waiting to watch a televised speech by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Shiite Muslim Lebanese Hezbollah militant group on February 22, 2008, in Beirut ten days after the assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad …

TEL AVIV – Saudi Arabia said on Sunday that it would harshly punish anyone who supports, sympathizes with, or funds Hezbollah, the Jerusalem Post reported.

A statement released by the Interior Ministry said that Saudis, expats, and foreigners would suffer “severe penalties” if they violate the kingdom’s anti-terrorism laws.

“Any citizen or resident who supports, shows membership in the so-called Hezbollah, sympathizes with it or promotes it, makes donations to it or communicates with it, or harbors anyone belonging to it will be subject to the stiff punishments provided by the rules and orders [regarding] terrorism crimes and [Hezbollah’s] financing,” the statement said.

It added that foreigners would face expulsion if they were found to be Hezbollah supporters.

The measure follows the Gulf countries’ declaration that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.

The Shi’ite Islamist group has close ties with Iran.

Riyadh cut ties with Tehran last month following the torching of its embassy in the Iranian capital in protest of Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric.

Saudi Arabia has blamed Iran and Hezbollah for helping President Bashar al-Assad maintain power in Syria, while Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah accused Riyadh of being behind car bombings in Lebanon.

On Friday, the Saudi delegation at the Arab League stormed out of a meeting after Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari defended the Shi’ite Hashd Shaabi militia group, an Iraqi foreign ministry source told Reuters.

“The Saudi delegation withdrew from the meeting hall after the speech of Foreign Minister Al-Jaafari, who rejected speaking against Hashd Shaabi and other resistance groups,” the source said.

“In his speech he said that Hashd Shaabi and Hezbollah have preserved the dignity of the Arabs and those who call them terrorists are the terrorists,” he added.