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Bahrain FM slams Hezbollah chief as 'criminal'

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Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gives a televised address from an undisclosed location in Lebanon, on September 23, 2013. Bahrain's foreign minister has lashed out at Nasrallah, calling him a "criminal" with no right to criticise the kingdom over its treatment of its Shiite opposition. (Al-Manar/AFP)

Bahrain's foreign minister on Tuesday lashed out at Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, calling him a "criminal" with no right to criticise the kingdom over its treatment of its Shiite opposition.

The sharp riposte to remarks made by Nasrallah the day before comes amid a ratcheting up of sectarian tensions across the region as Sunni and Shiite Muslims back opposing sides in Syria's civil war.

"The people of Bahrain are above being addressed by a criminal whose hands are stained by the blood of innocents in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq," Foreign Minister Khalid al-Khalifa wrote on Twitter.

"Any contact with terrorist Hezbollah is a contact with the enemy," said Khalifa, whose Sunni-ruled kingdom, along with other Gulf monarchies, views the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite movement as a terror group.

Nasrallah on Monday dismissed the government of Bahrain as "dwarves whose oppression will get them only disappointment," warning that the Bahrain government "should not assume it can continue to oppress its people and pressure the outside world to remain silent."

Nasrallah insisted that his party does not meddle in Bahraini affairs to back the country's Shiite majority, saying that Bahrain's Shiite opposition "does not belong to any (foreign) state or side."

"What is happening in Bahrain is very dangerous," said Nasrallah, pointing to the justice ministry's decision to seek a judicial order to shut down a Shiite clerics' group, and to the latest arrest of a top figure in the main opposition association Al-Wefaq.

Gulf monarchies, which are supporting the Sunni-led rebellion against the Syrian government, have been infuriated by Hezbollah's open intervention to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power.

They have collectively agreed to impose sanctions on Hezbollah supporters.