Germany backs call to put Hezbollah armed wing on EU terror list

BRUSSELS Wed May 22, 2013 9:27am EDT

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany will throw its weight behind a British drive to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on the European Union's list of terrorist organizations, German diplomats said on Wednesday.

Britain said on Tuesday it wanted the EU to add Hezbollah's military wing to its terror list because of evidence that the Iranian-backed militant group was behind a bus bombing in Bulgaria in July that killed five Israelis and their driver.

London also cited a four-year jail sentence handed down by a Cypriot court in March to a Hezbollah member accused of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

If backed unanimously by the European Union, the listing would force European governments and companies to cease any financial dealings with the armed wing of the Lebanese movement.

The call for EU action on Hezbollah comes at a time of growing Western anxiety about the group's involvement in the Syrian conflict, although British sources said this was not the reason behind its request.

On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague accused Hezbollah and Iran of propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Germany, one of the most powerful EU countries, had previously said it wanted to see stronger evidence that Hezbollah was involved in the bombing in Bulgaria.

"In the light of discussions we have had with our partners following the terrorist attack in Burgas, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle supports listing at least the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in the EU," a German diplomatic source said.

"The German position is based on an increasingly clear picture of the facts and on the progress achieved by Cypriot authorities in analyzing terrorist activities," the source said.

Hezbollah has dismissed Bulgaria's accusations that it was involved in the attack and said Israel is waging a smear campaign against it.

Britain's request will be discussed on June 4 by a special EU working group and London hopes for final agreement at an EU foreign ministers' meeting on June 24, an EU diplomat said.

The EU has resisted pressure from the United States and Israel to blacklist Hezbollah, arguing this could destabilize Lebanon's fragile government and contribute to instability in the Middle East.

In Europe, only the Netherlands lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group, while Britain blacklists its military wing. France has yet to take a public stance on Britain's proposal.

(Additional reporting by John O'Donnell and Ilona Wissenbach in Brussels, John Irish in Paris, Mohammed Abbas in London, Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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