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Satellite Firm Stops Hezbollah TV Broadcasts in Lebanon

FILE - Employees work in the newsroom of Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Dec. 10, 2015.
FILE - Employees work in the newsroom of Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Dec. 10, 2015.

A regional satellite provider cut the broadcast for Hezbollah's TV station in its native Lebanon Wednesday, deepening the Mediterranean country's isolation from the Arab world.

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 Tuesday of its intention to drop al-Manar's broadcasts, saying they "provoke sectarian strife." Two other Lebanese stations are expected to be affected by the decision.

Al-Manar is widely watched in Lebanon and is considered an authority on local and regional news. Its political reports openly favor pro-Iranian perspectives over pro-Saudi ones. It also broadcasts cooking and exercise shows, educational programming and documentaries.

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 Bashart 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 states, led by the kingdom, have taken other punitive measures. They have warned their citizens against traveling to Lebanon — a devastating blow to the tiny country's tourism industry — 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.