Netanyahu to EU Foreign Affairs Chief: If Hezbollah Isn't a Terror Group, What Is?

Prime Minister Netanyahu meets Catherine Ashton in Jerusalem, a day after the European Union failed to reach a consensus on including Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organizations.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday leveled criticism at the European Union states that voted against including Hezbollah's military wing on its list of terrorist organizations.

"If Hezbollah isn't a terrorist organization, I don't know what is a terrorist organization," Netanyahu told European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton during a meeting at his bureau in Jerusalem. "They're butchering people all around the world."

Netanyahu made his remarks a day after the European Union met in Brussels for its second deliberations in two weeks on whether to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group. A consensus had still not been reached by the end of the session, preventing the matter from being passed on to the EU's council of foreign ministers for vote.

Sources in the Israeli foreign ministry have named Austria, Ireland and the Czech Republic as the countries opposing the proposal, for various reasons.

In his meeting with Ashton, Netanyahu said he hoped those countries opposing the designation would soon change their mind, adding that he found it hard to understand why such a consensus could not be reached, considering Hezbollah's ole in the Syrian war and in the murder of civilians across the world – including on European territory.

The request to blacklist the armed wing of Hezbollah, raised by Britain and backed by Germany and France, ran into opposition during the first debate on the matter in early June. Several governments have expressed concern that such a move would increase instability in the Middle East.

Britain has argued that the militant Shi’ite Muslim group should face European sanctions because of evidence that it was behind a bus bombing in Bulgaria last July that killed five Israelis and their driver. Hezbollah denies any involvement.

London has also cited a four-year jail sentence handed down by a Cypriot court in March to a Hezbollah member accused of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

Blacklisting the group would mark a major policy shift for the European Union, which has resisted pressure from Israel and Washington to do so for years.

In response to the motion, several EU governments questioned whether there was sufficient evidence to link Hezbollah to the attack in Bulgaria, according to EU diplomats.

Some also reiterated concerns that such a move would complicate the EU’s contacts with Lebanon, where Hezbollah is part of the coalition government, and could increase turmoil in a country already suffering a spillover of civil war from Syria.

“The issue of political and security consequences” was raised, one EU diplomat said.

Already on the EU blacklist are groups such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, and Turkey’s Kurdish militant group PKK. Their assets in Europe are frozen and they have no access to cash there, meaning they are blocked from raising money for their activities.

The damaged bus following the suicide attack on Israeli tourists at Burgas airport, Bulgaria, July 19, 2012.Credit: AP