Peres urges EU to brand Hezbollah terrorists

JERUSALEM – Tension is growing between Jerusalem and Brussels over the European Union’s refusal to brand Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

Israel hoped that Bulgaria’s recent announcement that it believed Hezbollah was involved in the July bus bombing in Burgas could lead to the EU designating the group as such. The attack killed five Israelis.

A scheduled visit to Europe by Israeli President Shimon Peres this week was seen by Jerusalem as a perfect opportunity to start this process, but he met with reluctance.

Peres told EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso: “Hezbollah must be brought to justice before they kill more people. We must stop them from building their terror infrastructure across Europe.”

Hezbollah was also the very first issue Peres raised when he met Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary-General of NATO.

He said: “We are monitoring the ongoing attempts to build up weapons by Hezbollah, which is stockpiling weapons and missiles for terrorism and war. Hezbollah is sowing destruction in Lebanon and must be seen as a terrorist organisation in every way.”

And Peres told French President François Hollande: “Hezbollah is destroying Lebanon from within, it is cooperating with Assad’s dictatorship in Syria, is a loyal proxy of Iran and has become the world’s largest collector of missiles. Hezbollah is responsible for murderous terror attacks across the world, including on European soil as we witnessed in Burgas.”

But Hollande and many other European leaders presented a united front on the issue, claiming that the EU does not have sufficient evidence of Hezbollah’s activities in Europe, but not ruling out taking action in a few months time. One notable exception is the United Kingdom, which this week voiced support for the EU defining Hezbollah as a terrorist body.

After making his point about Hezbollah in meetings, Peres hammered it home during a high-profile speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday. He said that the “trigger happy” Hezbollah “is destroying Lebanon”, hiding weapons among civilians and turning them into war targets. It has “turned the land of the cedar tree into a scorched and barren land”.

Noting that 20 terror attempts by Hezbollah have recently been identified around the world, he declared: “Hezbollah is a state within a state. A private army apart from the national army.

“It sends soldiers to support the massacre of a bloody dictator in Syria. With no authorisation of the government of which it is a ­member …

“Your voice is highly respected. We appeal to you – call terror – terror. Save Lebanon from terrorist madness. Save the Syrian people from Iran’s proxies. Save your citizens and ours from Hezbollah.”

B’nai B’rith International has condemned the EU’s position, arguing in a statement: “By tabling this decision, the EU is sending the wrong message when the evidence is quite clear, and when in fact this attack occurred on European soil.”

Peres’s focus on Hezbollah comes as the Israeli military is preparing for a possible confrontation with the body, which it believes could come as a spillover from tensions in Syria.