The UK and Dutch governments urged their European Union counterparts to reopen the bloc\’s debate on whether to place Hezbollah on the continent\’s terror watch list.
Europe has long resisted pressure from both Israel and the United States to blacklist the Lebanon-based Shiite militia.
Friday\’s appeal by London and The Hague urged other EU governments to join the United States in imposing sanctions on the group, following its alliance with Syria\’s President Bashar Assad.
Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said the European Union should brand Hezbollah a terrorist organization, a move that would enable the bloc to freeze the group\’s assets in Europe.
"We have for quite some time now argued that effective European measures should be taken against Hezbollah," Rosenthal said on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Cyprus to discuss the EU\’s response to the Syrian crisis.
The Netherlands has already places Hezbollah on its terror watch list, while Britain reserves the designation for Hezbollah\’s armed wing.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London would like to see the EU "designate and sanction the military wing of Hezbollah."
So far, however, other EU member states – which have followed the US\’ lead and blacklisted Hamas – have resisted Washington and Israel\’s pressure to do the same to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, which receives much of its funding from Iran, was placed on the US\’ terror watch list in the mid 1990s.
Move detrimental to Lebanon?
Several EU countries have argued that blacklisting the Shiite militia could potentially destabilize the balance of power in Lebanon and add to tensions in the Middle East.
Hezbollah, whose politburo has a strong grip on Lebanon, currently holds 12 seats in the Lebanese parliament.
Other European diplomats argued that the move may be legally difficult, sans a court ruling in an EU state that linked the group to terrorism.
"Until now the Europeans have said that to designate a group as a terrorist organization you have to have a judicial process under way against this organization, which is not the case at the present time," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
Such a connection might eventually come from a Bulgarian investigation into July\’s terror attack against Israeli tourists in the Black Sea resort city of Burgas.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov stressed that the investigation was still ongoing and that Bulgaria was not ready to accuse anyone.
"The investigation is moving forward quite rapidly but will take at least another couple of months," he said. "Such a report… needs to be able to stand up in court. This is why we are being very careful in what we say."
Hezbollah and Iran have denied being behind the bombing.
In August, Washington imposed a new round of largely symbolic sanctions against Syria and Hezbollah and said it hoped other countries would take action against the Lebanese group.