The Lebanese Islamist Hezbollah movement dismissed on Wednesday Bulgaria's accusation that it carried out a bomb attack which killed five Israeli tourists last year, saying Israel was waging a smear campaign against it.
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- Iran denies involvement in Burgas bus bombing that killed five Israelis
Deputy Hezbollah leader Naim Qassem said Israel was directing "allegations and incitements and accusations against Hezbollah" because it had failed to defeat it militarily.
In a report released Tuesday, European Union and NATO member Bulgaria said the Iranian-backed Hezbollah carried out a bombing on a bus in the Black Sea city of Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver in July.
Qassem said Hezbollah, which fought an inconclusive 34-day war with Israel in 2006 and is now part of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government, would not change course or be deflected by the charges.
"Israel is leading an international campaign to intimidate people and countries against Hezbollah," he told religious students in southern Beirut.
"All these accusations against Hezbollah will have no effect, and do not change the facts," Qassem said. "We will not submit to these pressures and we will not change our priorities. Our compass will remain directed towards Israel."
Mikati has said his government was ready to cooperate with Bulgaria in investigating the attack.
The conclusions of the investigation, citing a clear connection to an attack on EU soil, might open the way for the EU to join the United States in branding Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
After the report was released, Israel and the U.S. called on the European Union to act against the Shi'ite militia.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the European Union not to differentiate between Hezbollah's military wing and its political wing, which has joined the Lebanese government. "There is only one Hezbollah. It is one organization with one leadership," he said in a statement, asking the EU to "draw the necessary conclusions."
The Obama administration also responded, saying Hezbollah must be held to account for the bomb attack. "We call on our European partners as well as other members of the international community to take proactive action to uncover Hezbollah's infrastructure and disrupt the group's financing schemes and operational networks in order to prevent future attacks," said John Brennan, a top national security adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama.
Germany on Wednesday warned of consequences for Hezbollah if allegations the group was behind an attack were to be confirmed. The announcement put pressure on countries such as France and Germany, which haven't banned Hezbollah despite the urgings of the U.S. and Israel.
Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Wednesday that "if the evidence proves to be true that Hezbollah is indeed responsible for this despicable attack then consequences will have to follow."
Bulgaria's opposition on Wednesday criticized the government statement that Hezbollah carried out a bomb attack that killed Israeli tourists, saying on Wednesday the conclusion was unjustified and dangerous.
"It is an unjustifiable act that is very dangerous," Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) leader Sergei Stanishev said. "The government entered into an international political game in an irresponsible manner, without calculating the consequences."
Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov said the investigation had been independent. "Nobody has ever exercised any pressure over Bulgaria," Mladenov told BNT television.