EU ministers agree to blacklist Hezbollah's armed wing

Jim Muir hears from people in Beirut who tell him Hezbollah is "everything to us... It is not a terrorist organisation"

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European Union foreign ministers have agreed to list the military wing of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.

The move required the agreement of all 28 of the EU's member states.

It makes it illegal for Hezbollah sympathisers in Europe to send the group money, and enables the freezing of the group's assets there.

In a statement, Hezbollah said the EU decision "was written by American hands with Israeli ink".

The group said the move "has no justification and is not based on any proof".

Some EU member states had been wary of the measure, saying it could further destabilise the situation in Lebanon.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels says some states had also argued it would be difficult to distinguish fully between the group's military and political wings.

Analysis

Given the magnitude of on-the-ground developments in which it is involved, the EU's move to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist group will likely be shrugged off by the militant movement as part of the Israeli-backed conspiracy against "resistance" that it sees behind much of what is happening in the region.

In practical terms, it would be more of a political slap on the wrist than a stunning body-blow. Hezbollah is not known to have substantial identifiable assets in EU countries which could be frozen, and it does not depend on donations from supporters there.

Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon but also the dominant behind-the-scenes political mover. Diplomats may find it hard to differentiate between its military and political wings.

It's ironic that Hezbollah's open involvement alongside regime forces in the Syrian conflict may have helped harden EU opinion against it. One of its main stated reasons for doing so is the need to combat extremist Sunni Salafi rebels such as the Nusra Front, which has also been designated a terrorist group by the US and others.

The US, which has blacklisted Hezbollah for many years, welcomed the EU move.

"A growing number of governments are recognising Hezbollah as the dangerous and destabilising terrorist organisation that it is," said US Secretary of State John Kerry.

'Essential component'

Hezbollah has a powerful political organisation and, along with its allies, dominated the last Lebanese cabinet, which resigned in March.

EU officials had reportedly been proposing a compromise to satisfy more sceptical members - a statement that the bloc "should continue dialogue with all political parties in Lebanon".

The Lebanese government had on Friday urged Brussels not to move against Hezbollah, describing the militant group as an "essential component of Lebanese society".

But the group's involvement in the war across the border in Syria, in support of President Bashar al-Assad, has hardened European opinion, our correspondent says.

Countries that support the EU move say there is compelling evidence that Hezbollah was responsible for a bomb attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last year in which six people died. The group denies any involvement.

In February, Bulgaria handed the EU's police agency the names of two people it suspected of involvement in the attack. Bulgarian officials said they believed the two men were Hezbollah members.

Members of the Hezbollah-backed Lebanese pro-Syrian Popular Committees stand guard at the Syrian border - April 2013 Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian conflict has hardened EU opinion

EU diplomats also point to a court case in Cyprus, where a Hezbollah operative was found guilty of planning attacks against Israeli citizens.

Hossam Taleb Yaccoub, 24, said he had been asked to record information about Israeli flights arriving on the island and registration plates of buses carrying tourists from Israel. He said he did not know what the information was intended for.

Hezbollah has already been blacklisted by the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK and the Netherlands.

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