South Lebanon judge resigns following ruling against US ambassador
A Lebanese judge in the southern city of Tyre has resigned after he was called in for questioning after banning local media outlets from interviewing the US ambassador, according to reports.
Judge Mohamad Mazeh tendered his resignation after he was referred to the judicial inspection authority for slapping a year-long gagging order that prevented local media from airing or publishing comments made by US Ambassador to Beirut Dorothy Shea.
The move came following remarks Shea made about Hezbollah.
Citing a judicial source, Lebanon's Daily Star confirmed Mazeh's resignation following calls to review his actions for causing a "diplomatic spat" between Shea and Lebanese officials.
In an interview with Saudi-owned news channel Al-Hadath, aired on Friday, Shea said the US had "grave concerns about the role of Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organisation".
"It has syphoned off billions of dollars that should have gone into government coffers so that the government can provide basic services to its people," she said.
"It has obstructed some of the economic reforms the Lebanese economy so desperately needs," she added.
Mazeh had criticised Shea's comments, saying she incited sectarian strife and served to "turn the Lebanese people against each other".
Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah on Sunday condemned the ambassador's "hostile behaviour", saying her remarks constituted an "attack" on the country's "sovereignty and dignity".
He called on Lebanese authorities - and especially the foreign ministry - to "compel the ambassador to respect international treaties that define the duties of diplomats".
Lebanon's Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti summoned Shea to his office on Monday, to settle the issue and reportedly warn her not to intervene in Lebanese domestic political affairs.
"We turned the page on this unfortunate distraction so that we can focus on the real crisis at hand which is the deteriorating economic situation," Shea said after the meeting.
"The US remains ready to support Lebanon," Shea stressed, adding that the relationship between the two countries "is a strong bilateral one".
Hitti emphasised the importance of freedom of speech and expression, calling them "sacred rights" in a statement from the ministry.
The State Department issued a fiery response to the judge's order on Saturday, stating: "Hezbollah's attempt to silence the Lebanese media is pathetic".
In Lebanon itself, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad dismissed the judge's order, saying: "No one has the right to ban the media from covering the news."
Local broadcaster LBC said it would not abide by the ruling, calling it a "non-binding and unenforceable" decision that violated press freedom.
Read also: Lebanon summons US ambassador over Hezbollah remarks
A senior judicial source told AFP that Mazeh had "overstepped his prerogatives as a judge".
Mazeh responded to the criticism on Sunday, saying his "conscious is clear" and that he was "fully convinced" he had made the right decision.
He was prepared, however, to resign if there was a judicial review.
The dispute comes as Lebanon grapples with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The Lebanese pound has nosedived against the dollar on the black market, sending prices soaring.
The Iran-backed Hezbollah has blamed Washington for the economic downturn, accusing it of preventing dollars from entering the cash-strapped country.
The US and Israel have long designated Hezbollah a terrorist group and urged allies to follow suit.
Hezbollah is the only group to have kept its weapons since the end of Lebanon's civil war on the grounds its militias are defending the country against Israel.
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