The EU has decided to blacklist the paramilitary wing of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement. Foreign ministers in Brussels made up their minds with a view to the group's intervention in Syria and alleged terrorist links.
Ministers in Brussels on Monday agreed to list Hezbollah's militia wing as a terrorist organization over its activities in both Europe and the Middle East.
The EU had so far resisted pressure from the US and Israel to add the Islamist movement to its list of terrorist groups. However, opposition to such a move had been fading recently.
Two key developments have led to the proposed blacklisting of the group.
Hezbollah's recent involvement in the Syrian conflict, which has seen its militia fighting alongside the government forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has proved unpopular with European governments.
The group has also been implicated in a deadly bus bomb attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last year. The request was put forward by Britain, which has already classified Hezbollah’s military wing as a terror group. France and the Netherlands have already banned the entire organization.
Speaking at the meeting, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Europe could not turn a blind eye to terrorism. "If we get enough proof that there have been terrorist activities from the military wing of Hezbollah in Europe, we have to answer it;" Westerwelle said.
Worries over stability
Among the major concerns about any possible ban is the fear that it might destabilize Lebanon and have ramifications for European peacekeepers serving in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Countries with troops stationed as part of UNIFIL include Austria, France, Germany and Spain.
Unanimous backing from the 28 EU member states is needed for a group or person to be placed on the bloc's terrorist blacklist. The classification makes members or individuals subject to an asset freeze and travel ban.
The ban might pose the tricky problem of having to unpeel the various layers of Hezbollah to separate the military from the political wings. Until now, some European nations have said they consider the political wing of Hezbollah to be legitimate.
Hezbollah, which comprises a militant and political element, was founded after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon during the 1980s and has strong links with Iran. It is widely considered to be more powerful than the Lebanese army itself.
Iran, which is Hezbollah's main patron and weapons supplier, has predictably condemned the EU's decision, calling it "shocking and unacceptable" and "solely in the interest of the illegitimate Zionist regime [Israel]."
rc/mkg (AP, dpa, Reuters)