REUTERS - The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization, it said on Wednesday, ratcheting up pressure on the Iran-allied group that wields influence in Lebanon and plays a key role in the Syrian crisis.
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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.
The decision came one day after a speech by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah that Saudi Arabia had pushed Lebanon into a new phase of political conflict by announcing it was suspending an aid package to the Lebanese army.
Nasrallah also stepped up criticism of Saudi Arabia, accusing it of directing car bombings in Lebanon, an arena for sectarian-tinged Iranian-Saudi rivalry that is escalating across the Middle East.
For his part, Zayani accused Hezbollah of committing hostile acts against GCC states, including recruiting young men to carry out "terrorist attacks, smuggling weapons and explosives, stirring up sedition and incitement to chaos and violence."
Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, the biggest member of the GCC, wields considerable influence in Lebanon through its backing for Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, a former prime minister who said on Tuesday that "riots, road blocking and tire burning" were attempts to provoke "chaos and discord." "We should not be dragged to any attempt of this sort," he said.
Tension between Hezbollah and Hariri spilled into armed conflict as recently as 2008, when a political dispute fuelled by Saudi-Iranian rivalry triggered a brief civil war. Nasrallah said there would be no repeat of that conflict.