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Saudis to expel Hezbollah supporters over Syrian war

| Thursday, June 20, 2013, 9:54 p.m.

In the latest sign of the fissures growing in the Arab world over the Syrian civil war, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Beirut has announced that the kingdom plans to deport Lebanese who supported Hezbollah, one of Damascus' key allies.

The Lebanese Shiite militant group has taken an increasingly prominent role in the Syrian war, fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's troops in an important battle this month. Saudi Arabia is a strong backer of the mostly-Sunni Syrian opposition trying to remove Assad from power. Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

This month the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates — decided to crack down on Hezbollah members in gulf states and put limits on their “financial and business transactions.”

Hezbollah said it has no businesses in the gulf nations. However, there are more than half a million Lebanese working in those countries, including tens of thousands in Saudi Arabia, some of whom have been living in the kingdom for decades. Many of those Lebanese are Shiites.

Saudi Arabia will deport “those who financially support this party,” Ambassador Ali Awad Assiri said on Lebanonese TV late Wednesday. He did not elaborate on whether other actions could be considered support for Hezbollah.

“This is a serious decision and will be implemented in detail,” Assiri said, without specifying when the deportations would begin. “Acts are being committed against innocent Syrian people.”

Lebanon's Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told reporters he was in contact with Gulf officials over the matter. Hezbollah and its allies dominate Lebanon's government, which resigned March 22 but continues to run the country's affairs in a caretaker capacity.

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