The tension between Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah over the war in Syria have taken a turn for the worse, with the Gulf States, led by Saudi Arabia, declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization undermining regional stability on Wednesday.
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Shortly afterwards the Gulf Cooperation Council's move, the Arab foreign ministers reached the same decision at the conclusion Arab League meeting in Cairo, despite reservations by Lebanon and Iraq. Saudi Arabia spearheaded the decision.
These two dramatic moves could have a major influence on Hezbollah’s activities in the Arab world, and could represent a major blow to the organization’s fund-raising.
The Saudi kingdom even increased the pressure on the group when they declared a freeze in aid to Lebanon, including economic and military assistance, and a reappraisal of the relations between the two countries.
In the past, Saudi Arabia was the main sponsor of the Lebanese government when Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in March 2005, and his successor, his son Saad al-Hariri, headed the government.
In recent years, after Al-Hariri was ousted from the premiership, Saudi influence in the country declined, and this severance increased with the intensification of the fighting in Syria. The confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah worsened about two months ago, when Saudi Arabia executed Shi’ite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Hezbollah for its part spared no criticism of Saudi Arabia and the royal family, including slanderous insults, while the satellite channels identified with Saudi Arabia mocked Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
There is no question that Wednesday’s decision intensifies the tension and the rift between Sunnis and Shi’ites, with Hezbollah equating Saudi Arabia with the United States and Israel.
Hezbollah called the decision to label it a terrorist organization "reckless and hostile." Senior official Hashim Safi Al Din said Wednesday at the funeral of a Hezbollah ground commander who was killed in Syria that the decision by the Gulf States is a "mark of Cain" that exposes the conspiracy against the resistance in Lebanon.
The deputy foreign minister of Iran, Hezbollah's patron, blasted the decision as a "mistake."
Iranian state TV Thursday quoted Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying the move was a "new mistake" that would undermine peace in the region and the unity of Lebanon. He said Iran was "proud" of Hezbollah.
The decision came one day after a speech by Hezbollah leader Nasrallah that Saudi Arabia had pushed Lebanon into a new phase of political conflict by announcing it was suspending its aid to the Lebanese army.
Gulf Arab states imposed sanctions on Hezbollah members in 2013 in retaliation for the group's intervention in Syria's civil war in support of President Bashar Assad. And individual GCC countries - including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain - have labeled the group terrorists.
But the GCC Secretary-General, Abdullatif al-Zayani, in a statement issued in Riyadh, said that the GCC had now taken a collective decision on the group.
"As the militia continues its terrorist practices, the GCC states have decided to label it a terrorist organization and will take the necessary measures to implement its decision in this regard based on anti-terrorism laws applied in the GCC and similar international laws," the statement quoted Zayani as saying.
Reuters contributed to this report