Israel waging "campaign of intimidation" over Bulgaria attack: Hezbollah

A woman holds a picture of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah during a rally to commemorate the birth of Prophet Mohammad in Beirut's suburbs, January 25, 2013. (Photo: Reuters - Sharif Karim)

Published Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hezbollah denounced Israel on Wednesday for waging an "international campaign" against it after Bulgaria said the resistance movement was behind a July bombing that killed six Israeli tourists.

Naim Kassem, the group's number two, slammed the "international campaign of intimidation waged by Israel against Hezbollah," and said it is "ever improving its equipment and training" and that "these charges will change nothing."

The European Union will consider adding Lebanon's Hezbollah movement to its list of terrorist organizations after Israel and the US stepped up a campaign to push the Union to blacklist the resistance group, an EU foreign affairs spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

However, she said listing the group was just one of several options and said no decision had been taken.

"Currently, Hezbollah is not on the list of terrorist organizations in the EU and member states will look into several options. This is one of them but not the only one," Maja Kocijancic told reporters.

EU foreign ministers meet on February 18 for a regular gathering at which the issue could be discussed.

Bulgaria on Tuesday accused Hezbollah of carrying out a bomb attack on a bus in the Black Sea city of Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists.

The United States already lists the group as a terrorist organization and US and Israeli authorities want to see the EU take a similar position.

Kocijancic said other options included EU member states taking action against Hezbollah via Europol, the European policing agency, via the courts or through other diplomatic channels, but she did not elaborate.

The United States on Tuesday pressed Europe to help choke off funds and aid to Hezbollah.

"We strongly urge other governments around the world – and particularly our partners in Europe – to take immediate action to crack down on Hezbollah," new Secretary of State John Kerry said.

"We need to send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group that it can no longer engage in despicable actions with impunity," he added in one of his first statements since taking up the reins of US diplomacy.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, viewed as allied to Hezbollah, has vowed to cooperate with Bulgaria's courts in the investigation.

“Lebanon also reiterates its commitment to the security of Bulgaria and all members of the EU,” he said. “Lebanon trusts the Bulgarian authority in its investigation and is ready to cooperate to uncover the circumstances of the issue for the sake of justice.”

The Lebanon-based resistance group Hezbollah has been on a US terror blacklist since 1995 after a series of anti-American attacks, including the bombing of the US embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in the 1980s.

Hezbollah is credited with ending Israel 22-year occupation of Lebanon by mounting a powerful armed resistance campaign against Israeli bases in Southern Lebanon. It is also considered to serve as an effective deterrence force against the Jewish state which has killed over 17,000 people in the country since the state's creation in 1948.

Washington has been actively pushing the European Union to also take steps to ban Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Hours after the bus bombing in July, Israel had named their suspects to be Hezbollah and its ally Iran. Six days after, the EU was reported to have rejected a request from the Jewish state to blacklist the group.

After Bulgaria announced its suspects – a Canadian and an Australian with alleged links to Hezbollah – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on world leaders to list the group as a terror organization. He claimed it had a "worldwide network" with plans to attack two dozen countries.

The US fears that as it has been "squeezing" Hezbollah the group has looked for "other places to do their banking, to do their plotting," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"Our concern has been that Europe has been one of the places that they have exploited."

Kerry, who discussed the issue during talks Tuesday with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said the Bulgarian finding was "clear and unequivocal: Lebanese Hezbollah was responsible for this deadly assault on European soil."

The bus bombing, in which five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian driver were killed at Burgas airport, was part of "a stepped-up terrorist campaign by Hezbollah... around the world over the past year," Nuland warned.

President Barack Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, his nominee to lead the CIA, also called on European states to take "proactive action" to uncover Hezbollah's infrastructure, financing and networks.

US officials also praised Bulgaria for its professional and comprehensive investigation into the attack, vowing Washington would stand with the government in Sofia as it fights terrorism.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said the European Union should draw the "necessary conclusions" about Hezbollah following the investigation, hinting the group should be placed on a terror watch list.

Nuland acknowledged however there were differences among EU states about how to deal with Hezbollah, given that it is part of an elected government.

"There are varying views about whether... there's a difference between the military wing and the political wing. You know that our view is that we don't recognize a distinction, but different governments have different views," she said.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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