EU Ban on Hezbollah May Hinge on Burgas Bombing
BERLIN – In deciding whether to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group, the EU will consider as a key factor the outcome of the Bulgarian inquiry into the July suicide bombing that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver, French Ambassador to Israel Christophe Bigot told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
"Our British friends would like to put Hezbollah's military wing on the terror list," said Bigot, adding that the "main element is what is the outcome of the inquiry in Bulgaria," he said in a telephone interview with the Post.
He added that Bulgaria has not yet reported the results of the investigation and the EU has had to wait for the process to end.
American and Israeli intelligence officials attribute the suicide bombing at the seaside resort of Burgas, earlier this year, to a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation.
According to a report in The New York Times, Israel's intelligence apparatus intercepted telephone calls between Lebanon and Burgas, months ahead of the bombing.
Bigot stressed that the EU "still does not have the result of the Bulgarian inquiry" and that "we will be able to make the decision when we have a result of the inquiry."
Asked about Hezbollah's role in aiding the Syrian regime to violently wipe out the pro-democracy movement, Bigot said, "Hezbollah has a lot of activities" and is also "part of Lebanon's government."
The United States government listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in 1995.
Europe's resistance to outlawing Hezbollah as a terror group prompted Obama's top counterterrorism head to publicly scold the Europeans in late October.
Speaking in Dublin, deputy national security advisor for homeland security and counterterrorism John Brennan said that "failure to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization makes it harder to defend our countries and protect our citizens."
He explained that the present situation complicated law enforcement efforts because of the problems involved in invoking terror charges against Hezbollah suspects.
"We call upon our European allies and partners – including the EU – to join us, not only in recognizing Hezbollah's terrorist and criminal activities, but in condemning and disrupting those activities," Brennan said.
"We have discussions with intelligence agencies" in connection with the Americans and it is a "complex situation," Bigot said.
He said France was aware that blacklisting Hezbollah "is an important issue for the Americans," and added that the American issue is part of the discussions among the 27 EU members and that the American position "was very clear."
Brennan stressed that European countries must hold Iran and Syria accountable for their sponsorship of Hezbollah.
In September, the US Treasury meted out "financial sanctions against the head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, for providing support to Syrian President Bashar Assad."
Treasury sanctioned two additional Hezbollah officials, Mustafa Badr al-Din and Talal Hamiyah, for their "terrorist activities in the Middle East and around the world."
Dr. Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow and director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – who conducted a whirlwind tour of major European cities in November – said Hezbollah uses Europe to raise funds and engage in weapons procurement.
Levitt, the leading authority on Hezbollah's criminal and terror activities, urged EU policymakers to put the group on the terror list.
Asked if France would – independently of the EU – outlaw Hezbollah within its territory in a move similar to Paris's 2004 decision to ban reception of the Hezbollah-controlled TV station Al-Manar, Bigot said, "We are talking about different issues."
He said Al-Manar was prohibited because the programing was "against our values."
Then-French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said France should pull the plug on Al- Manar because its "anti-Semitic" content is "incompatible with French values."
A French court agreed with Raffarin and sustained the ban.
Bigot stressed that the "issue is whether the 27 members will consider Hezbollah as a terrorist organization," and that has implications.
Asked about Hezbollah's role in the bombing of the French military barracks in 1983, resulting in the murders of 58 French paratroopers, Bigot said, "We have quite good knowledge of what Hezbollah is. We know what it is about."
Responding to a list of anti-Jewish, anti-Israel and Holocaustdenial statements from Hezbollah and its leaders, Bigot said France "condemns anti-Semitism wherever it comes from."
Hassan Nasrallah has praised the French Holocaust-denier Roger Garaudy, stating that he "discussed the alleged Jewish Holocaust in Germany. He proved that this Holocaust is a myth."
A statement attributed to Nasrallah and authorized by Hezbollah says, "If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice I do not say the Israeli."
Bigot said France has a "strong record on condemning on anti- Semitism" and repeated that "We condemn every anti-Semitic statement."
Asked about media reports that France is refusing to designate Hezbollah a terror organization in order not to lose its diplomatic leverage in Lebanon, Bigot said, "France has knowledge about Lebanon, and several countries are aware of the fragility [in Lebanon] and have knowledge of Lebanon."
He noted that France has had troops in Southern Lebanon for 34 years.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.
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