The designation will significantly impact Hezbollah’s operations in Europe, including the terrorist group’s ability to raise funds and engage in logistics and terrorist activity on European territory.
Although the United States designated Hezbollah in 1995, the EU has been dragging its feet. Efforts to ban the group gained momentum following last year’s attack on a tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists, a Bulgarian bus driver and the bomber. More recently, the terrorist group has joined forces with the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad that has intensified the Shia-Sunni strife in the region.
Both the U.S. and Israel applauded the EU decision. “As Hezbollah has deepened its support for the brutal Assad regime and worked to expand its global reach through increased involvement in international criminal schemes and terrorist plots around the world, a growing number of governments are recognizing Hezbollah as the dangerous and destabilizing terrorist organization that it is,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a prepared statement.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni described the decision as “just and correct.” She said that “Finally, after years of discussions and deliberations, [they] have failed, and rightly so, in their attempt to claim that they are a legitimate political party.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the EU to go further, designating Hezbollah’s political arm. It “is one organization, the arms of which are indistinguishable,” he said, calling Hezbollah an “Iranian protectorate” with tens of thousands of rockets at its disposal.
Hezbollah has waged terror attacks against the United States and Israel. In 1983, the Lebanon-based group killed 240 people in an attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Hezbollah, along with its chief patron Iran, had been alleged to have waged attacks on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina in 1992 and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1994.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU would review the terrorist designation every six months.
“That does not prevent continuation of dialogue with all political parties in Lebanon. We also agreed that the delivery of legitimate financial transfers to Lebanon and delivery of assistance from the European Union and its member states will not be affected,” she said.
Blacklisting Hezbollah allows EU members to freeze the group’s assets in Europe, and it might also include travel bans for individuals. Ms. Ashton said it sends both a political signal and a “real” signal that the 28-member block does not tolerate terrorism.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, “It’s a year since the terrible bombing attack in Bulgaria and we believe its very important when there’s a terrorist attack on European soil that Europe gives a firm and clear response to that. A designation would also make it easier for us to work together in the face of further terrorist threats and send a very clear message to Hezbollah and others about that.”
Also of concern is Hezbollah’s strong support for the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and its military crackdown on a two-year-old uprising there.
The EU foreign ministers also called for the release of political prisoners in Egypt, including the country’s ousted president Mohammed Morsi. They called for an inclusive democratic process in the North African country, along with elections as soon as possible.
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