The European Union is unlikely to bow to U.S. pressure to brand Hizbullah a “terrorist organization” in the wake of EU member Bulgaria blaming the Lebanese group for an attack that killed five Israeli tourists, diplomats said Wednesday.
New U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged the EU to follow Washington's lead by designating Hizbullah as a terrorist group in a move that will notably lead to a crackdown on its fund-raising activities.
Britain is among EU member states in favor but with key countries like France and Italy reluctant to approve such a move, there is little prospect of achieving the consensus required for a change of policy in the 27-member EU.
A Foreign Office spokesman in London said the right response to the Bulgarian investigation would be to subject Hizbullah's military wing to the EU's terrorism asset freezing regime.
"Designation would send out a clear message that we condemn the terrorist activities of its military wing and that terrorist actions on European soil will not go unpunished," the spokesman added.
London rejects arguments that going after Hizbullah in this way will inevitably destabilize Lebanon.
Hizbullah has been on a U.S. terror blacklist since 1995 after a series of anti-American attacks, including the bombing of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in the 1980s.
A well-informed diplomatic source in Brussels said France was the most influential opponent of the EU aligning itself with the U.S. position, but the reservations in Paris are shared by Italy, Cyprus and Malta.
Italy is a major contributor to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), making it sensitive to the risk of potential reprisals, but its position is also based on a view of Hizbullah as a legitimate political force, not just a military organization.
Nearly seven months after the bombing of an Israeli tourist bus at the Black Sea airport of Burgas, Bulgaria announced Tuesday that Hizbullah militants were to blame.
An EU source said Bulgaria's ambassador in Brussels had informed his EU counterparts of the investigation's findings at a meeting on Wednesday.
There was no request from any member state for the special EU working party that works on this question to be convened.
"This working party usually meets in May and November to review the terrorist list but a meeting could be called earlier. However Hizbullah has never been proposed for inclusion in recent years," the source said.
Hizbullah denounced Israel on Wednesday for waging an "international campaign" against it.
Sheikh Naim Qassem, the group's number two, slammed the "international campaign of intimidation waged by Israel against Hizbullah."
"There is a global attack led by Israel to confront the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine... targeting Hizbullah specifically because (Israeli) aggression has failed against Hizbullah," added Qassem.
Bulgaria's foreign minister defended himself Wednesday against accusations that Sofia lacked the proof to blame Hizbullah for the attack.
"If Bulgaria did not have enough arguments to announce yesterday that the traces in this attack lead to Hizbullah's military wing, we would not have done it," Nikolay Mladenov said on BNT television.
Bulgarian analysts on Wednesday accused the government of not having enough proof to level what may turn out to a dangerous accusation, and of kowtowing to Washington and Israel.
"We have joined the camp of U.S. and Israel... allowing to be drawn into the big game where Hizbullah has to be eliminated as it supports the regime in Syria," international security expert Simeon Nikolov said.
"Do our leaders realize the responsibility they take in announcing results, which are not categorically backed by evidence?" the expert added on BNT television, slamming what he saw as "a strategic mistake" by the government.
"What is this 'justified assumption'? We entered a game, which is not ours without having any categorical proof to show," Yovo Nikolov from Capital weekly newspaper added.
Too small to have access to extensive intelligence data from abroad, Bulgaria obviously "relied heavily on resources from foreign security services" in the investigation, Tihomir Bezlov from the Sofia-based think tank Center for the Study of Democracy said.
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