BRUSSELS (EJP)---The European Union on Tuesday rejected a call by Israel to include Hezbollah on the EU’s list of terrorist organizations for its role in last week’s bomb attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and other attacks against Israelis over the world.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels after a meeting with visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Markoulis, whose country currently holds the six-month EU presidency, declared that “there is no consensus among EU member states” for blacklisting Hezbollah.
Such a decision requires unanimous agreement, an EU source told EJP.
The EU statement will come as a huge disappointment Israel after Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman travelled to Brussels with the aim of realising such a goal as he participated in the annual meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council, the body governing relations between the two sides.
Israel and Jewish organisations have sought to elicit condemnation of Hezbollah, following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that the Lebanese organisation was responsible for last week’s terrorist attack in Burgas, Bulgaria, which killed five Israelis and left more than 30 injured.
At the press conference, Lieberman said “we have real hard evidence that the one who stands behind this attack is Hezbollah backed by the Iranians,” calling on the EU to “give the right signals to the international community and to the Israeli people” by adding the organisation to a list of EU-recognised terrorist groups.
He said Israel was continuing to compile evidence from the Bulgaria attack and would onpass proof to the EU.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that "for years we have been providing Europe with information on Hezbollah's direct involvement in terror attacks.
"But certain states in the EU have clarified to us that because of political reasons, they prefer to not add Hezbollah to the list, despite them not disputing the evidence."
“From our point of view, it’s unacceptable that Hezbollah terrorists meet and talk with western diplomats in Beirut on the one hand and pursue terrorist activity on European soil on the other hand,” the Israeli minister said.
Kozakou expressed the EU’s “solidarity with the Bulgarian and Israeli people” following last week’s bombing and reiterated the EU’s “unwavering commitment to the fight against terrorism” but she stressed that unanimity of the Council would be necessary in order to carry through Israel’s demand regarding Hezbollah.
According to the Cypriot Commissioner, the fact that the Lebanese Shiite militia “comprises a political party, social service network, as well as an armed wing”, in conjunction with its links with both parliament and government means it “plays a specific role with regard to the status quo in Lebanon”.
But she added that the EU would consider outlawing the organisation “should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism”, stressing that “EU action to fight terrorism is not limited to that”, rather it comprises “measures on prevention, protection, pursuit and response”.
The issue of Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities was also expected to feature high on the list of priorities for Tuesday’s meeting, with Lieberman stressing that should Israeli fears regarding the Syrian transfer of chemical and biological weaponry to Hezbollah prove founded, “we will act decisively and without restraint”.
“Israel is ready to intervene militarily if there is any indication that the Hezbollah organization is accessing chemical weapon in Syria, “ Lieberman said.
"In the moment we see that the Syrians transfer chemical and biological weapons to Hezbollah, this is a red line for us and from our point of view it‘s a clear casus belli.It will be a completely different ballgame and we hope for the understanding of the international community."
When asked if Israel has any indication that Hezbollah is already accessing Syrian weapons, Lieberman said his country is aware of the Iranian-backed militia’s "desire, their attempt to achieve chemical and biological weapons."
His comments came amid reports that Syrian government forces had moved chemical weapons to airports near its borders - a day after the regime of President Bashar al-Assad warned that it could use them if Syria is attacked by an external force.
However, Lieberman was adamant that the possession of chemical weaponry by the Syrian regime was not just an Israeli concern, stressing “we have enough information about their desires and attempts to achieve chemical weapons and from our point of view, it’s a red line, it’s a clear threat”.
Speaking on the deadlocked diplomatic talks with Iran, he said “it’s also the right timing to draw some conclusions”, insisting that “the time will come when negotiations must end and action must begin”.
Despite saying Israel would be patient and monitor the progress of ongoing lower level talks, he spoke of the Israeli expectation “to see substantial results”.
On the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian peace, Lieberman reiterated Israel’s view that t “there’s only one way to resolve our dispute with the Palestinians and that is through direct talks”.
He criticized the Palestinian Authority’s attempts to delay talks by calling for preconditions to be applied and said its appeals for unilateral statehood to the Un General Assembly and in other forums as “very counter-productive”.
At the pres conference, both parties were keen to herald bilateral EU-Israeli relations, as the EU approved 60 new cooperation activities across 15 fields.
EU Commissioner for enlargement and neighbourhood policies Stephan Fule hailed Europe’s “strong and vibrant” relations with Israel, “despite some occasional difficulties”.
Highlighting the extent of cooperation across fields of trade relations, culture, transport, social policy, and scientific research and development, he said “the EU is committed to cooperate with Israel on all areas”.
Paying tribute to Israel as a “prime example of democracy in the region”, he called on the government “to improve its record on human rights and democratic freedom, stressing that “our concerns include the situation of the Arab minority and the Bedouin community” in the country.
Israel’s critics have been outraged by the apparent “upgrading” of the EU’s relations with Israel, in the wake of May’s foreign affairs council’s contentious statement which said “Israeli pursuit of settlement building, settler extremism and human rights violation of Palestinians threaten to make a two-state solution impossible”.
However, both Commissioners Kozakou and Fule were keen to emphasise in Tuesday’s press conference that the current action plan was an extension of its existing Action Plan under 2005’s European Neighbourhood Policy.
The EU-Israel Association Agreement was signed in June 2000.