UAE sentences seven Hezbollah members

The UAE listed Hezbollah, which is widely considered to be an Iranian proxy, as a terrorist organisation in February.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Hezbollah was originally established in 1985 to fight against the Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon, but is now fighting in support of the Assad regime in Syria.

Updated Nov 1, 2016

A court in the United Arab Emirates on Monday convicted seven people for having links to the Lebanon-based Shia militant group Hezbollah.

The sentencing comes amid high sectarian tensions in the region as Iran-backed Shia groups clash with Sunni groups supported by Gulf Arab states in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. 

Hezbollah, which is widely considered to be an Iranian proxy originally set up in 1985 to resist the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, has been fighting in support of Bashar al Assad’s regime since the beginning of the Syrian civil war five years ago.

The UAE - along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait - is part of a bloc of US allies that opposes Assad and supports opposition forces seeking to topple him.

The bloc, known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in February listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and threatened to expel anyone found to be linked to the group.

Hezbollah militants in Syria have been operating in coordination with Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders.

Out of the seven people sentenced on Monday, three were Lebanese, two were Emirati, one was Iraqi and one was Egyptian.

One Emirati and two Lebanese nationals were handed life sentences. The Iraqi and another Lebanese man were sentenced to 15 years, while the Egyptian and the other Emirati were given 10 years each.

They were accused of "handing over information about a government department" and "oil production in the UAE" as well as "maps of a gas field" to Hezbollah, state news agency WAM reported.

Another charge was "forming and managing an international group belonging to the (Hezbollah) party without a licence from the government."

Hezbollah enjoys the support of many Shia Muslims in both Syria and Lebanon, but are opposed by Saudi and Qatari-backed Sunni groups like Ahrar al Sham.

In a separate case, a 24-year-old Emirati man was sentenced to seven years for "fighting with a terrorist group in Syria," referring to the Ahrar al Sham rebel group.

Although Ahrar al Sham is considered by most countries to be a legitimate Syrian opposition group, the UAE is one of the few nations to list it as a terrorist organisation because of its ties with Jabhat Fateh al Sham, a former Al Qaeda affiliate once known as the Nusra Front.

Both groups are part of a wider coalition force called Jaysh al Fatah, which includes Free Syrian Army brigades and enjoys support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

TRTWorld and agencies