European Union governments agreed on Monday to put the military wing of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on the EU terror list, diplomats said, in a major reversal of policy driven by concerns over the group's activities in Europe.
"Agreement (was) reached to list Hezbollah," one EU diplomat told Reuters. Three other diplomats confirmed that.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said earlier that ''the great majority" of the 28 EU member states supported the plans and hoped for the necessary unanimity during Monday's meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers.
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Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom welcomed the EU decision: "As someone who lobbied to get Hamas on the terror list in 2004, I know it is significant step that greatly inhibits the operations of a terror group disguised as a political group." Shalom added that though it came late, the decision was better late than never.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was also pleased with the outcome. "Finally, after years of discussion and debate, the effort to label Hezbollah is a legitimate political party has rightly failed. It is clear to the whole world today that Hezbollah is a terror organization.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that evidence from last year's attack in the Black Sea resort of Burgas in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian, should give enough impetus for the move. Westerwelle said that ''we have to answer this, and the answer is" blacklisting Hezbollah's the military wing.
The attack on EU territory plus a Cyprus criminal court decision in March finding a Hezbollah member guilty of helping to plan attacks on Israelis on the Mediterranean island has galvanized EU diplomacy in moving toward action.
''We should name names because time comes to tell the truth," said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Antanas Linkevicius, who chaired Monday's meeting. ''What was done by the military wing in the region and elsewhere I would say, there should be some reaction."
Hezbollah has denied involvement in the attack on the bus in Bulgaria.
The blacklisting would mean imposing visa bans on individuals and asset freezes on organizations associated with the group. But the implementation would be complicated since officials would have to unravel the links between the different wings within Hezbollah's organizational network and see who could be targeted for belonging to the military wing.
The Iranian-backed group plays a pivotal role in Lebanese politics, dominating the government since 2011, and has since sent its members to bolster Syria's President Bashar Assad forces in their assault of rebel-held areas.
Even though evidence from Bulgaria and Cyprus will be key in the decision, several EU nations also have pointed to Hezbollah's involvement in Syria as a reason for the move.
Hague said that blacklisting Hezbollah's military wing would not "destabilize Lebanon or have serious adverse consequences." "It is important for us to show that we are united and strong in facing terrorism," Hague said.