Paris supports labeling Hezbollah over Assad ties

Paris supports labeling Hezbollah over Assad ties

France, which has long opposed Israeli overtures to blacklist group as terror organization, says involvement in Syria led to reversal

Hezbollah fighters in military uniform carry the coffin of one of their own, Hassan Faisal Shuker, 18, who was killed in a battle against Syrian rebels in the town of Qusair, Syria, in May, 2013 (photo credit: AP)
Hezbollah fighters in military uniform carry the coffin of one of their own, Hassan Faisal Shuker, 18, who was killed in a battle against Syrian rebels in the town of Qusair, Syria, in May, 2013 (photo credit: AP)

France’s foreign minister said Wednesday that Paris will join a number of other European countries in calling for Hezbollah to be blacklisted by the EU as a terror group.

Israel has long pressed France to make the move, though Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the designation was in response to the Lebanese group’s backing of the Syrian regime.

France had been known to oppose such a designation because of its ties to Lebanon, making Wednesday’s announcement a significant reversal.

“Because of the decisions that have been taken by Hezbollah and the fact that they are fighting very harshly the Syrian population, we have decided to ask that the military branch of the Hezbollah would be considered as a terrorist organisation,” Fabius told reporters in English, according to AFP.

Earlier in the day, Germany also reversed its earlier position on Hezbollah, saying it would back a terror designation for the group following revelations of anti-Israel activities by the Shiite organization.

“This German position is based on an increasingly clear picture of the facts and on the progress achieved by Cypriot authorities in analyzing terrorist activities. Since the terrible terror attack in Burgas [in Bulgaria] in July 2012, we’ve been conducting intensive talks with our partners. I hope that the necessary consultations within the EU can be concluded rapidly,” German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said.

Both Germany and France stressed that there were only speaking of the military wing of Hezbollah, which is also one of the ruling political parties in Lebanon.

“Many of us European countries are on this line and my guess is that it will be a decision that will be taken by Europe,” Fabius said while leaving a meeting of Syrian opposition backers in Amman.

Hezbollah has played an increasingly open role backing regime forces in the Syrian civil war, suffering heavy losses in a battle for the border town of Qusair over the last several days. There have also been reports of Hezbollah fighters elsewhere in Syria and the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has vowed to defend Damascus.

Israel has pushed for the EU to designate the group a terror organization, as Jerusalem, Washington, London and a number of other capitals already do, but many European countries have been reluctant, citing Hezbollah’s political affiliations. Such a move would require the support of all 27 member states.

On Tuesday, an official told AFP that Britain had filed an official request for the EU to blacklist Hezbollah, pushing the body closer to adopting the designation.

A spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry in Paris said then that the French position on the British proposal would depend on various issues. “For us, all elements concerning Hezbollah must be taken into account: the result of the investigations initiated by the Cypriot and Bulgarian authorities after the bombing of Burgas, and also other considerations such as Hezbollah’s increasingly evident direct involvement in the Syrian crisis alongside the regime of Bashar Al-Assad,” the spokesperson said.

The push to label Hezbollah gained steam following a Bulgarian investigation into last year’s Burgas bus bombing, which fingered the group for the blast that killed five Israeli tourists and a local bus driver.

Earlier this year, a Cypriot court convicted a man with Hezbollah ties for tracking Israeli tourists on the island.

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