German governing parties seek ban of Hezbollah in Europe

December 19, 2019 - 5:29 am

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's governing parties are calling for a ban of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, saying it should be put on the European Union's terrorist list.

Mathias Middelberg, the spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in parliament, said a joint resolution with the junior coalition Social Democrats would be introduced for debate Thursday.

“It is unacceptable that Hezbollah is waging a terrorist fight against Israel in the Middle East, which is being financed through worldwide criminal activities, among other things,” he said in a statement. “In view of Germany's special responsibility toward Israel, we call on the government to ban all activities for Hezbollah in Germany.”

At the moment, the EU lists Iran-backed Hezbollah's military wing as a banned terrorist group, but not its political wing, which has been part of Lebanese governments in recent years.

“The separation between a political and a military arm should be abandoned, and Hezbollah as a whole should be placed on the EU terrorist list,” Middelberg said. “This could freeze Hezbollah's funds and assets in Europe more extensively than before.”

It was not immediately clear whether the resolution would prompt the government to pursue a full ban, but with the governing parties and most opposition on board, such action seemed likely.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas acknowledged that with Hezbollah's ties to Lebanese government “the political reality in Lebanon is complex," but he said “this should not prevent us from exhausting the legal possibilities in Germany to tackle Hezbollah's criminal and terrorist activities.”

“Hezbollah denies Israel's right to exist, threatens violence and terror, and continues to massively increase its arsenal of missiles,” Maas said.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah was part of caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri's unity Cabinet, which resigned Oct. 29 in response to mass anti-government protests amid a worsening economic crisis.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 that ended in a U.N.-brokered cease-fire. While direct fighting has been rare since then, there has been occasional violence, most recently on Sept. 1 when Hezbollah fired a barrage of anti-tank missiles into Israel and Israel responded with artillery fire.

The barrage was fired in retaliation to an Israeli airstrike inside Syria which Hezbollah said killed two of its members. It also followed an incident in which two Israeli drones crashed in a Hezbollah stronghold in south Beirut.

Israel maintains Hezbollah has amassed an arsenal of some 130,000 rockets and missiles capable of striking virtually anywhere in Israel. More recently, it has accused the group of trying to import or develop guided missiles.

Last December, Israel announced that it had uncovered a network of tunnels that it said Hezbollah was building with the aim of infiltrating and carrying out attacks. Israel said it systematically destroyed the structures.

Hezbollah has not commented on the tunnels, though the U.N. peacekeeping force UNIFIL has said the group violated the 2006 ceasefire.

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