The European Union said it will discuss designating Hezbollah as a terrorist group after Bulgaria implicated the Lebanon-based organization in the 2012 bombing of a tourist bus.
“The European Union and the member states will look into several options; this is one of them, but not the only one,” Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign-affairs chief Catherine Ashton, told reporters today in Brussels. Persons and organizations placed on the terrorist list are subject to stepped-up police and judicial surveillance and can face other restrictions including an asset freeze, according to the EU’s website.
An investigation by Bulgaria found “evidence of links and financing” from Hezbollah based on information about the suspected conspirators in the attack, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said yesterday. That prompted Israel and the U.S. to renew calls for the EU to follow them in designating Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
The EU has declined to label Hezbollah a terrorist group, which would block its fundraising and other activities in Europe, because some Europeans governments see it as a legitimate political organization and a powerful influence in Lebanon.
Placing Hezbollah on the EU terrorist list would have a “negative impact on the commercial relationship between Lebanon Europe, which is the first commercial partner of Lebanon,” Sami Nader, an economist and a professor of international relations at Beirut’s St. Joseph University, said in a telephone interview. “That would shake the trust in the Lebanese economy and banking system at a time when we need to increase our relationship with the rest of the world.”
The EU is reviewing the findings of the investigation by Bulgaria into the July 18 attack near Burgas, a holiday spot on the Black Sea, Kocijancic said.
“We will look into the outcomes of this investigation and discuss the appropriate response,” Kocijancic said. In addition to the terrorist list, “there are also actions that can be taken through various channels,” she said, citing “judicial action, political and diplomatic measures,” and the EU’s police-coordination arm, Europol.
It is unclear whether EU leaders will discuss the issue at a two-day summit that starts tomorrow in Brussels, an EU official told reporters today. A formal decision would rest with the 27-nation bloc’s foreign ministers, who won’t be at this week’s meeting, the official said on condition of anonymity. The next scheduled meeting of the foreign ministers is Feb. 18 in Brussels.
“Various options are under consideration,” Philippe Lalliot, spokesman for France’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters today in Paris. “We will draw the consequences in coordination with our European partners.”
Tsvetanov said two of the suspects in the attack are holders of an Australian and a Canadian passport who have lived in Lebanon since 2006. Bulgarian authorities have a “well- grounded assumption” that they were members of Hezbollah’s military wing, Tsvetanov told reporters in Sofia yesterday. The third suspect is still unidentified, he said.
Bulgarian and Israeli experts cooperated to identify the suspects in coordination with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, Tsvetanov said. Bulgaria has requested assistance in the investigation from law-enforcement authorities in Lebanon, Canada and Australia, he said.
Lebanonese Prime Minister Najib Mikati stressed his government’s “readiness to cooperate with the Bulgarian state in clarifying the circumstances of this matter,” according to a statement yesterday.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jones Hayden in Brussels at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at email@example.com