Israel's Netanyahu signals annoyance with EU over Hezbollah

JERUSALEM Thu Jun 20, 2013 9:56am EDT

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) speaks during her meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem June 20, 2013. REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) speaks during her meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem June 20, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Abir Sultan/Pool

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced exasperation on Thursday with the European Union's reluctance to classify Lebanon's Hezbollah movement as a terrorist group.

"I mean, it's hard to see how you cannot have a consensus on Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. If Hezbollah isn't a terrorist organization, I don't know what is a terrorist organization," he told Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, at the public start of their meeting in his office.

Responding to Netanyahu, Ashton said: "I hear what you say, especially on your concerns about what's happening with Hezbollah. And we will talk about these things."

A British proposal to put Hezbollah on the EU's terrorism blacklist was resisted on Wednesday by some of the bloc's 27 members who fear such action would fuel instability in the Middle East, diplomats said.

Britain has argued that the militant Shi'ite Muslim movement should face European sanctions because of evidence it was behind a bus bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and their driver in July. Hezbollah, which the United States lists as a terrorist organization, denies any involvement in the attack.

Diplomats said some EU governments had questioned whether there was solid evidence of Hezbollah involvement. Bulgaria's new government expressed similar doubts this month, but now says it will not impede blacklisting the group.

The British proposal gained more support in Europe in recent weeks after Hezbollah, an ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, became openly involved in that country's civil war.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a war in Lebanon in 2006.

In arguing its case, Britain has also pointed to a four-year jail term a court in Cyprus imposed on a Hezbollah member accused of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

Diplomats say a majority of EU member states, including France and Germany, back the British proposal. But unanimity is needed and Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy have voiced reservations over what would be a major policy shift for the EU.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, and Turkey's Kurdish militant group PKK are already on the EU blacklist, and their assets in Europe have been frozen.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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