BRUSSELS, Belgium — Foreign ministers from the 28 European Union countries agreed Monday to add the military wing of Hezbollah to an EU blacklist of terrorist organizations, ending years of division over whether the move risks further destabilizing Lebanon and the wider region.
“The EU has decided to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organization,’’ said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans. ‘‘I’m satisfied that we took this important step today, by dealing with the military wing of Hezbollah, freezing its assets, hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act.’’
Some EU countries have long expressed doubts about isolating Hezbollah — including Irelandand Austria, which have long military experience with peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and have worried about the impact on the country.
They were persuaded to drop their objections amid evidence the Iran-backed militia was behind a bomb attack that killed five Israeli tourists and their driver in EU member Bulgaria last year and had plotted a similar attack in Cyprus.
Hezbollah’s prominent role supporting the government side in Syria‘s civil war has also convinced many Europeans that action is needed against the group.
“Today’s agreement to list Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization shows EU stands united against terror attacks in Europe,” Britain‘s Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted from the meeting.
Reactions inside Lebanon were muted. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati issued a statement saying that Lebanon would abide by international law, but added, “we wish the EU countries had carried out a careful reading of the facts and sought out more information.”
One Hezbollah supporter in Beirut’s southern suburbs told GlobalPost the blacklisting “means nothing,” and speculated that the group’s operations would not be affected. “How does this change anything for them?” he said of the Shia militants.
The EU’s move comes as the European bloc takes a more strident role in the Middle East and seeks a stronger voice in the region as the prospect approaches of US-backed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians reviving after a five-year hiatus.
Last week, the EU outraged the Israeli government by announcing it was barring European funding for Israeli entities operating in territories outside the country’s 1967 borders.
Israel is also incensed that the EU is mulling rules that would oblige Israeli produced exports from the territories to be specifically labeled as such.
However, the EU decision on Hezbollah was warmly welcomed by Israel.
“Finally, after years of discussion and debate, the effort to label Hezbollah as a legitimate political party has rightly failed,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said. “It is clear to the whole world today that Hezbollah is a terror organization.”
A reporter in Beirut contributed to this report.