The United States has announced sanctions on financial organisations and individuals in Lebanon and Oman, aimed at shutting down funding to the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas militants.
Powerful US financial sanctions were imposed on the Jammal Trust Bank in Lebanon, which was accused of acting as a key financial institution for Hezbollah and opposes US ally Israel, an AFP report said on Friday.
They also targeted individuals in Oman who allegedly act as middlemen to funnel cash from Iran's elite Quds Force to Hamas in Gaza.
The US Treasury Department "is targeting Jammal Trust Bank and its subsidiaries for brazenly enabling Hezbollah's financial activities," including sending payments to families of suicide bombers, Sigal Mandelker, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
He said the Oman-based financiers "funneled tens of millions of dollars... to Hamas for terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip".
The sanctions mean that any link with US citizens or institutions is no longer allowed, which is likely to severely curtail activities.
In Beirut, the Association of Banks in Lebanon voiced "regret" over the US move while insisting that all funds deposited with Jammal Trust Bank were safe and stressing the ability of the country's central bank to remedy the situation if need be.
Senior US administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that the two actions were above all meant to send a signal.
The bid to squeeze Jammal "should be seen as a warning shot that Hezbollah and its Iranian puppet masters should keep their hands off Lebanese financial institutions," one official said, calling this part of a strategy to "choke off every last avenue of funding".
Although Jammal is only a modest-sized bank in Lebanon, it is the "bank of choice" for Hezbollah, another official said.
A third senior US official called the sanctions a reflection of the "gloves off approach" by President Donald Trump against Hezbollah.
"We will continue to target individuals and entities involved in financing and providing support to Hezbollah while working closely with the Central Bank of Lebanon and other Lebanese institutions which work to preserve the integrity and stability of Lebanon's banking system," the State Department said.