US ends freeze on $100 million in Lebanon aid

Washington (AFP) –


President Donald Trump's administration has released $100 million in military assistance to Lebanon that had been frozen without public explanation, sources said Monday.

A congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the assistance has been unblocked by the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

The Trump administration has been tight-lipped on the reason for the hold-up in support for Lebanon but has been pressing the government to distance itself from Hezbollah, the Shiite militant movement close to Iran.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who included Hezbollah members in his cabinet, resigned a month ago in the face of major street protests, although it was not clear that the aid decision was connected to the Lebanese government's composition or decisions.

David Hale, the number-three official of the State Department, confirmed the delay in the aid when he was questioned under oath by Congress last month in the impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Asked about the freeze in aid to Ukraine, a key element of the impeachment question, Hale said that he learned in June that assistance was on hold to both Ukraine and Lebanon "without any explanation."

Two senior Democrats, in a recent letter to the White House, said that hold affected $105 million in aid to Lebanon including military vehicles, weapons and ammunition.

Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Ted Deutch, head of its Middle East subcommittee, wrote that Lebanon "continues to face imminent threats to its security forces from a resurgent ISIS, Al-Qaeda and its affiliates as well as an increasingly strong Hezbollah."

There has been no allegation that Trump stopped the Lebanon assistance for personal political gain, the central allegation in his delay of $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.