Europe divided on branding Hezbollah ‘terrorists’
The European Union is unlikely to bow to US pressure to brand Hezbollah a terrorist organisation in the wake of EU member Bulgaria blaming the militia group for an attack that killed five Israeli tourists, diplomats said Wednesday.
New US Secretary of State John Kerry has urged the EU to follow Washington's lead by designating Hezbollah as terrorists in a move that will notably lead to a crackdown on its fund-raising activities.
Britain is among EU member states in favour 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 Hezbollah's 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.
London rejects arguments that going after Hezbollah in this way will inevitably destabilise Lebanon, where the militia controls 18 of the 30 seats in cabinet.
Hezbollah has been on a US terror blacklist since 1995 after a series of anti-American attacks, including the bombing of the US embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in the 1980s.
A well-informed diplomatic source in Brussels said 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, not just a military organisation.
Nearly seven months after the bombing of an Israeli tourist bus at the Black Sea airport of Burgas, Bulgaria announced Tuesday that Hezbollah militants were to blame.
An EU source said 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 Hezbollah has never been proposed for inclusion in recent years," the source said.