EU asked not to blacklist Hizbullah

Lebanese request comes as foreign ministers meet to discuss designation

Supporters of Lebanon’s Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah near the site of an explosion in Beirut earlier this month. Photograph: Reuters/Khalil Hassan

Supporters of Lebanon’s Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah near the site of an explosion in Beirut earlier this month. Photograph: Reuters/Khalil Hassan

Sat, Jul 20, 2013, 01:00

Lebanon has asked the EU not to add Hizbullah to its blacklist of terrorist organisations, arguing that the movement is an “essential component” of Lebanese society. The request comes as EU foreign ministers prepare to discuss whether to designate Hizbullah’s military wing at their monthly meeting on Monday. The Shia Muslim movement is a major player in the current Lebanese government.

While some individual member states have recognised Hizbullah as a terrorist group, the EU as an entity has not. The US and Israel have long lobbied the EU on the issue. During a visit to Dublin last October, US president Barack Obama’s then chief homeland security adviser John Brennan, now director of the CIA, chided Ireland for its failure to designate Hizbullah.

The Netherlands has placed Hizbullah on its terror list, while the UK distinguishes between its political and military wings, proscribing the latter as a terrorist organisation.

‘Irrefutable proof’

A Lebanese presidency statement said it requested that any EU decision on designation “not be taken in a precipitate manner, and without being based on objective and irrefutable proof”.

Lebanon’s request coincided with the first anniversary of a bomb attack on an Israeli tourist bus in Bulgaria which killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian driver. Israel immediately blamed Iran and Hizbullah for the blast. The bombing revived the EU debate over whether to designate Hizbullah but discussions have been deadlocked in recent months.

Several EU member states, including Ireland, have expressed concerns about the British-led push to blacklist Hizbullah, arguing such a move could destabilise Lebanon, given the movement is part of the government. Some European governments have questioned whether there is sufficient evidence linking the group to the attack last year in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas. France, which was initially reluctant, now supports the move to designate Hizbullah’s armed wing due to its increasingly active role in Syria, where it is fighting on the side of president Bashar al-Assad.

“Because of the decisions that have been taken by Hizbullah and the fact that they are fighting very harshly the Syrian population, we have decided to ask that the military branch of the Hizbullah would be considered as a terrorist organisation,” France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius said.

Compromise deal

It is understood EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has floated a compromise deal that would blacklist Hizbullah’s military wing while stressing that the EU is open to talking to its political faction.

But unanimity is required for any decision and Ireland, Austria, and the Czech Republic are among the EU governments that continue to have reservations. A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the issue was “difficult”, particularly given the presence of European peacekeepers, including Irish troops, in southern Lebanon as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil). Hizbullah has a strong presence in Lebanon’s southern flank.

“A number of countries, including Ireland, have expressed concerns about the potentially serious destabilising impact of designation on the already volatile situation in Lebanon,” the spokesman said. “There are also serious concerns about the possible impact on Unifil and its ability to discharge its mandate effectively.”