Bahrain on Monday banned political groups from making any contact with Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah, a day after the Gulf Arab state’s foreign minister called the head of the Shiite Muslim group a “terrorist.”
The move reflected sectarian tensions within Bahrain and across the Sunni Muslim-dominated Gulf region stoked since 2011 by Syria’s civil war, and exacerbated further after Hezbollah’s leader openly acknowledged it was fighting on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s side against mainly Sunni rebels.
“Political associations are banned from making any kind of contact with the Lebanese Hezbollah organization, for it [is] a terrorist organization,” the official Bahrain news agency BNA quoted an order issued by the justice and Islamic affairs minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ali al-Khalifa, as saying.
The justice minister’s statement did not say what action the government would take if any party failed to comply with the ban. Al Wefaq, the main Shiite opposition party in Bahrain, said it had no formal contact with Hezbollah.
“Contacts between Al Wefaq and Hezbollah do not exist,” Al Wefaq member Hadi al-Moussawi told Reuters. “There is no cooperation between us. Our concerns are internal and do not require us to be in contact [with them],” he said.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, in comments on Twitter on Sunday, branded Hassan Nasrallah a “terrorist” after the Hezbollah leader proclaimed that his fighters would help deliver victory for Assad in Syria’s war.
The minister’s comments marked a departure from the traditional Arab view of Hezbollah as an important “resistance” force against Israel and showed how sectarian strains in the region have worsened over the war on Syria.
Hezbollah’s increasing military involvement on the side of Assad, whose minority Alawite sect derives from Shiite Islam, has turned many Arabs who sympathize with the Syrian rebels against his movement.