BEIRUT: The European Union will work with any Lebanese government even if Hezbollah is part of it, EU Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst said Tuesday, just a day after the bloc labeled Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization.
Mixed reactions to the decision continued to be issued by Lebanese leaders from across the political spectrum, further highlighting the rift in the country’s internal politics.
On one hand, Hezbollah’s allies condemned the EU decision, while its rivals said such measures could have been averted if the party had focused on protecting Lebanon from Israeli attacks.
“The EU will work with any Cabinet that represents all parties and even if Hezbollah was part of it,” Eichhorst told reporters following a meeting with caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour.
Eichhorst explained the EU’s position to politicians allied with Hezbollah including Speaker Nabih Berri.
“Ties with Lebanon will remain very strong. Lebanon is an important partner,” she said.
The EU’s 28 foreign ministers unanimously agreed Monday to put the military wing of Hezbollah on its terrorism blacklist, a move driven by concerns over the party’s role in a bus bombing in Bulgaria last year and its intervention in the Syrian war.
Eichhorst underlined that the EU differentiated between Hezbollah’s political and military branches and that it wasn’t trying to publicly pressure specific people.
“We do not talk about persons or individuals,” she said.
The ambassador said the EU would announce details of the resolution Thursday and reiterated that the listing would be reviewed every six months.
Hezbollah firmly rejected the decision and accused the EU of bowing to pressure from the United States and Israel, describing the move as “aggressive and unjust.”
Berri, whom Eichhorst also visited, strongly condemned the “inclusion of the so-called military wing of Hezbollah on the EU list of so-called terrorist organizations.”
He said the decision amounted to “contempt for justice” since it was not accompanied by a direct accusation against the party and constituted a “free service to Israel.”
Berri criticized the EU for what he said was the covering up of “continuous Israeli crimes against Lebanon,” including constant violations of Lebanese sovereignty and the occupation of Lebanese land.
“We invite the EU to retract its decision and measures,” said Berri. He predicted the move would impact all Lebanese and their interests in Europe, damage Lebanese-European relations, and increase tensions across the country.The Future Movement, one of Hezbollah’s rivals, expressed “extreme regret and concern” at the EU decision.
In a statement, the Future Movement said the party was an “essential Lebanese faction that represents a significant slice of the Lebanese.” Hezbollah participated directly in liberating Lebanese land from Israeli occupation, it added, “before the sights of its gun were pointed toward the Lebanese interior.”
Expressing concern that the decision would affect Lebanon’s reputation and the interests of all its citizens, the bloc said it was possible for Hezbollah to prevent this escalation if it worked to promote Lebanese national interests and unity.
It called on Hezbollah to adhere to “national principles” by withdrawing its fighters from Syria, halting its external security and military operations, and handing over the men accused by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon of involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The blacklisting also sparked fears of tensions between Hezbollah and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon deployed in the south, a party stronghold.
UNIFIL officials issued a statement about the EU ruling, clarifying that their work would not be affected by the decision: “UNIFIL troops, currently coming from 37 countries, operate under the U.N. flag. They do not act on behalf of their country and their actions are dictated by the U.N. Security Council mandate and rules of engagement of UNIFIL.”
UNIFIL spokeswoman Antoinette Midday said the protection of UNIFIL soldiers and employees south of the Litani River was the responsibility of the Lebanese authorities and Army. There are 3,620 European soldiers in the force, she noted.
She said the peacekeeping force had not taken any exceptional measures and would be “continuing our work as usual.”
However, the state-run National News Agency reported that UNIFIL had taken special measures around bases south of the Litani River as a precaution.
The force built concrete barriers around its positions, added barbed wire and cameras to its outposts and guard towers, and reduced its street and village patrols, the NNA said Tuesday.
Hezbollah’s foreign allies also condemned the decision. The Syrian Foreign Ministry said the EU decision was a capitulation to American and Israeli demands against the resistance, and “encourages aggression and occupation.”
Iranian Ambassador Ghazanfar Rokonabadi reiterated his country’s condemnation of the decision after a meeting with Foreign Minister Mansour.
“Israel must know that this decision will not affect the policies of the resistance one iota, and of course Israel and the U.S. lobbied for this decision,” Rokonabadi said. “While a resistance movement is ranked as terrorist, the biggest occupiers and aggressors are called saints.”
Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam expressed hope the EU would “reconsider” its decision, which he said “lacks clarity in its nature, implementation” and did not help promote national dialogue in Lebanon.
Speaking during an iftar dinner, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the Lebanese government “rejects” the European ruling and would use all diplomatic channels to reverse it.