Bulgaria presses EU to toughen stance on Hezbollah

Mon Feb 18, 2013 4:20pm EST
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By Justyna Pawlak

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Bulgaria urged European governments on Monday to take a harder stance towards Hezbollah after blaming the Lebanese Islamist movement for a bus bombing that killed five Israelis at a Bulgarian Black Sea resort last year.

But the country's Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov cautioned European states not to be in a rush to brand the Lebanese group as a terrorist organization, saying careful consideration was needed of potential consequences in Beirut.

Bulgaria's implication of Hezbollah in the attack in the city of Burgas has reignited a debate over Europe's approach to the Shi'ite Muslim group.

The European Union has resisted pressure from the United States and Israel to blacklist Hezbollah, arguing this could destabilize a fragile government in Lebanon and contribute to instability in the Middle East.

Hezbollah is a major player in Lebanese politics and its support is vital to the authority of Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

"It is very important for us in Europe to understand that when faced with the threat of terrorism, we need to stand up to it firmly ... and collectively," Mladenov told Reuters in Brussels, where he presented findings of an investigation into the July 2012 Burgas attack to EU foreign ministers.

On his way into the meeting, Mladenov told reporters Europe should take collective measures against Hezbollah.

Asked whether that meant the EU should blacklist the movement, he replied: "Given the fact that we've already made quite firm statements about where we believe the responsibility for that attack lies, I think the answer is quite obvious."   Continued...