Lithuania on Thursday announced that it was banning the entry of all people affiliated with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist organization.
“Having taken into consideration the information acquired by our institutions and partners, we may conclude that ‘Hezbollah’ uses terrorist means that pose [a] threat to the security of a significant number of countries, including Lithuania,” the Baltic country’s foreign minister, Linas Linkevičius, said in a statement.
The decision to ban Hezbollah-affiliates is valid for 10 years. It was made by Lithuania’s Migration Department based on information, provided at least in part by Israel, about Hezbollah operatives engaged in activities considered a “threat to Lithuanian national security interests,” the Foreign Ministry in Vilnius said in a statement.
“We appreciate the successful cooperation between the Lithuanian and Israeli national security agencies. We are thankful to these institutions for their significant work in helping ensure the safety of our citizens,” Linkevičius said.
— Linas Linkevicius (@LinkeviciusL) August 13, 2020
Jerusalem welcomed Vilnius’ move and called on other European nations to follow suit.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on Thursday called Linkevičius and congratulated him on outlawing Hezbollah and all its branches, including it’s so-called “political wing.”
“This decision is important and self-evident and it is good that there is agreement among many European countries on the subject,” he said.
I spoke with Lithuanian FM @LinkeviciusL and thanked him for the important decision to designate #Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. I call on all European countries to make similar decisions. Hezbollah's actions in Lebanon hold the entire Lebanese population hostage.
— גבי אשכנזי – Gabi Ashkenazi (@Gabi_Ashkenazi) August 13, 2020
Previously, many European countries only recognized the group’s “military wing” as a terrorist entity while engaging with its political branch, even though experts have long argued that such a distinction was artificial.
“Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that has reigned in terror over large parts of Lebanon and has turned them into areas under Iranian auspices, while taking Lebanon’s citizens, economy and political system hostage,” Ashkenazi said.
The Lithuanian foreign ministry’s statement did not mention explicitly that the country had outlawed Hezbollah in its entirety.
The decision to act against Hezbollah comes nine days after a massive explosion at Beirut’s port killed more than 150 people and destroyed large parts of the Lebanese capital. Hezbollah denies any responsibility for the blast, caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical it has reportedly been planning to use for terror attacks across the world. Some Lebanese protesters have accused Hezbollah for the August 4 explosion.
Lithuania recently provided €50,000 (about NIS 200,000) in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon in the wake of the deadly blast. “It is important to note that we support peaceful people of Lebanon and their wish for their country to implement necessary reforms,” Linkevičius said Thursday.
In banning Hezbollah, Lithuania is joining the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and several Sunni Arab states.