Thursday, February 07, 2013

EU Unlikely to Brand Hizbullah a Terrorist Organization

Elad Benari

The European Union is unlikely to bow to U.S. pressure to brand Hizbullah a terrorist organization in the wake of EU member Bulgaria blaming the terror group for an attack that killed five Israeli tourists, diplomats said Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday urged the EU to follow Washington's lead by designating Hizbullah as terrorists in a move that will notably lead to a crackdown on its fund-raising activities.

AFP reported that Britain is among EU member states in favor, but with key countries like France and Italy reluctant to countenance such a move, there is little prospect of achieving the consensus required for a change of policy in the 27-member EU.

A Foreign Office spokesman in London said the right response to the Bulgarian investigation would be to subject Hizbullah military wing to the EU's terrorism asset freezing regime.

"Designation would send out a clear message that we condemn the terrorist activities of its military wing and that terrorist actions on European soil will not go unpunished," the spokesman added, according to AFP.

Hizbullah has been on a U.S. terror blacklist since 1995 after a series of anti-American attacks, including the bombing of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in the 1980s.

A well-informed diplomatic source in Brussels told AFP that France was the most influential opponent of the EU aligning itself with the US position, but the reservations in Paris are shared by Italy, Cyprus and Malta.

Italy is a major contributor to the UN peace force in Lebanon, making it sensitive to the risk of reprisals, but its position is also based on a view of Hezbollah as a legitimate political force, the report said.

On Tuesday, Bulgaria officially blamed Hizbullah for the Burgas terror attack last July, in which five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian driver were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a tourist bus.

An EU source told AFP Bulgaria's ambassador in Brussels had informed his EU counterparts of the investigation's findings at a meeting on Wednesday.

There was no request from any member state for the special EU working party that works on this question to be convened.

"This working party usually meets in May and November to review the terrorist list but a meeting could be called earlier. However Hizbullah has never been proposed for inclusion in recent years," the source said.

Shortly after the Burgas bombing, the EU decided not to list Hizbullah as a terrorist group.

Hizbullah, meanwhile, accused Israel on Wednesday of waging an “international campaign” against it.

Naim Kassem, the terror group’s second in command, slammed the “international campaign of intimidation waged by Israel against Hizbullah,” adding that it is “ever improving its equipment and training” in order to bring about the destruction of the Jewish state.

“[T]hese charges will change nothing,” he said, referring to the Bulgarian investigation.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke on Wednesday evening with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and thanked him for the thorough and professional investigation into the terrorist bombing in Burgas.

Netanyahu told Borissov, "The findings of the investigation are clear and prove that Hizbullah was responsible for the atrocity in Burgas. This is an additional indication that Iran, through its proxies, is conducting a global terrorist campaign that crosses borders and continents.

“I hope that the Europeans will draw the necessary conclusions regarding the true character of Hizbullah after this criminal attack on European soil against an EU member state,” he added.

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