Israel has responded with anger to a reported meeting between the French foreign minister and members of the Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah, suggesting the move was comparable to meeting with representatives of the Islamic State group.
Jean-Marc Ayrault met with a political delegation of Hezbollah in Lebanon on Tuesday, according to local media reports.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry released a statement urging France to follow the example of Arab states that have blacklisted Hezbollah as a terror organization.
“It’s a shame that the French foreign minister didn’t consult with Arab states that do not make a distinction between the military and political arms of Hezbollah,” read the Tuesday statement. “It’s clear that Foreign Minister Ayrault would not meet with the ‘political wing’ of Islamic State.”
In May the Arab League declared the Lebanon-based Shiite group a terrorist organization, with all but two of the 22-member bloc voting for the resolution. The declaration came a little over a week after the predominantly Sunni Gulf Cooperation Council took a similar stance by blacklisting the group.
As opposed to the European Union, which only defines the group’s military wing as a terrorist organization, the Arab League and GCC made no distinction between the group’s political and military arms.
The Lebanese news site al-Joumhouria quoted “well-informed” sources who said the delegation that met with Ayrault included lawmaker Ali Fayyad, from Hezbollah’s political party Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc, as well as the head of Hezbollah’s international relations, Ammar al-Musawi.
Ayrault arrived in Lebanon Tuesday for a two-day trip in order to help the country move past the political paralysis that has prevented the election of a new Lebanese president since 2014.
Lebanon has been without a president since Michel Sleiman stepped down in May 2014 at the end of his term, because of deep divisions between its politicians. Both the cabinet and the parliament have been paralyzed.
The country has also suffered bouts of violence in the past few years, a spillover from neighboring Syria’s civil war. Lebanon, a tiny country with a population of around 4.5 million, is also hosting more than a million Syrian refugees.
“The Lebanese people are facing several security challenges. There are negative and dramatic consequences from the situation in Syria, including the refugees,” Ayrault told reporters during the visit.
“We should protect Lebanon from the consequences of the war in Syria,” he added.
Hezbollah has a strong presence in Lebanon’s parliament. The group is also openly committed to destroying Israel, and its armed wing has an estimated 100,000-plus rockets and missiles aimed at the Jewish state.
Dov Lieber and agencies contributed to this report.