Satellite firm stops Hezbollah TV broadcasts in Lebanon

AP News
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Posted: Apr 06, 2016 11:07 AM
Satellite firm stops Hezbollah TV broadcasts in Lebanon

BEIRUT (AP) — An Egyptian regional satellite provider cut the broadcast of Hezbollah's TV station in the Shiite group's native Lebanon on Wednesday, the latest in escalating tensions between the Iranian-backed organization and Sunni Arab countries in the region.

Al-Manar, the official station of the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah, briefly went off air after its carrier, Egypt's NileSat, dropped the channel. Technicians scrambled to reprogram satellite receivers after the station switched its broadcast to Russia's Express satellite provider in Lebanon.

Hezbollah's influence over Lebanese politics has prompted Saudi Arabia and its allies to retaliate through media and political sanctions. The party is seen as a proxy to Saudi's regional rival, Iran, and has sent thousands of soldiers to fight against Saudi-backed Islamist rebels in neighboring Syria's civil war. Hezbollah has also aligned itself with the Saudi-opposed Houthi rebels in Yemen's civil war. The party maintains a dominant militia force in Lebanon.

Lebanon's state news agency reported that the Egyptian satellite company NileSat informed the country's Information Ministry on Tuesday of its intention to drop Al-Manar's broadcasts, saying they "provoke sectarian strife."

Al-Manar is popular among Hezbollah supporters but is widely watched by others, particularly for regional news and updates on the Syria conflict. Its political reports openly favor pro-Iranian perspectives over pro-Saudi ones. It also broadcasts cooking and exercise shows, educational programs and documentaries.

Hezbollah strongly denounced the "unjust decision" to take it off the air, calling the move "a blatant violation of freedom of opinion and expression and an attempt to silence the voice of resistance and righteousness."

Its statement also accused Egypt of total submission to Saudi Arabia in its attack on the group.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states have pumped billions of dollars into Egypt to keep the economy afloat.

The developments underline the steep price of Hezbollah's very public and bloody foray into Syria's civil war. Once lauded in Lebanon and the Arab world as a heroic resistance movement that stood up to Israel, Hezbollah has seen its popularity plummet, even among its Lebanese base, because of its staunch support for President Bashar Assad.

The Arab League designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization in March.

A month earlier, Saudi Arabia cut $4 billion in aid to Lebanese security forces after Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil declined to join Arab and Islamic league resolutions critical of Iran and Hezbollah.

Gulf Arab states, led by the kingdom, have taken other punitive measures. They have warned their citizens against traveling to Lebanon as well as cut Lebanese satellite broadcasts, and closed a Saudi-backed broadcaster in Lebanon. The gulf countries are also expelling Lebanese expatriates they say have ties to Hezbollah.

It could take days for Al-Manar to resume its transmission across the Middle East as it negotiates with various satellite providers, according to an official at the station who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.