Hizbullah Official on UNIFIL: People Won't Accept Troops Living among Them, Calling Them Terrorists

A Hizbullah official has announced that southerners will not accept to have U.N. peacekeepers among them who label them as "terrorists," in the wake of the European Union's decision to put the party's armed wing on its list of "terrorist" organizations.

“People are not going to accept you living among them and calling them terrorists,” a Hizbullah official said in an interview with the British newspaper the Financial Times.

The EU designation has tested Hizbullah’s relationship with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has been deployed in southern Lebanon since 1978.

“We as locals in the south treated UNIFIL like sacred guests – we protected them,” Ali Ahmed Zawi, a pro-Hizbullah mayor of a southern village, told the FT.

“What do they do in return? Put us on the terrorist list,” he added.

According to Tony McKenna, the commander of UNIFIL's Irish battalion, the pro-Hizbullah community leaders with whom his contingent regularly liaises have not reproached them yet for the designation. “We would have expected if there was going to be a backlash, mayors would not be meeting us, or if they were meeting us, giving us a dressing down – we haven’t encountered this yet,” said Lt. Col. McKenna.

The mayor also played down any suggestion of violence, insisting that Hizbullah will respond “politically” to the EU designation. “They put us on the terrorist list, but we’re going to treat (UNIFIL) well, because that’s our way,” he said.

European countries with troops in southern Lebanon are likely to have received indirect assurances that their security would not be affected before taking the decision, said Timur Goksel, of the American University of Beirut, a former UNIFIL spokesman.

“UNIFIL's presence serves Hizbullah in multiple ways, for their own security and for the benefit of their people economically,” he said.

However, even if Hizbullah as an organization has decided not to turn up the heat on European peacekeepers, villagers angered by the decision might confront a UNIFIL convoy, Goksel added.

A Lebanese security official told the FT that extremist groups known to operate in the South might take advantage of the situation to launch an attack on UNIFIL.

Two years ago, unknown assailants targeted French and Italian peacekeepers. More than a dozen were wounded by three roadside bombs.

Almost a third of UNIFIL's 10,000 troops are from European countries.

Copyright © 2012 All Rights Reserved.