Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, stopped short today (5 February) of linking Hezbollah to a terrorist attack at a Bulgarian airport last summer, despite recent findings suggesting the opposite. The Iranian-backed group is currently not on the EU list of terrorist organisations.
In a statement, Ashton said that "reflection" and "serious assessment" were needed over the outcome of an investigation by Bulgarian authorities into the terrorist attack that destroyed a bus at the airport of Burgas on 18 July, killing five Israeli tourists.
Speaking at a press conference on 5 February, Ashton commended the Bulgarian enquiry but stopped short of making a link with Hezbollah. "We have to reflect on the consequences, we have to consult and come back," she said.
Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov has today (5 February) linked the attack to Hezbollah, saying that two individuals with links to Lebanon's militant group were involved in the bomb attack.
"We have established that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah," Tsvetanov said. "There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects." The two, he said, have lived in Lebanon between 2006 and 2010.
According to Tsvetanov, the pair held genuine passports from Australia and Canada, adding that Bulgaria had requested cooperation from the law enforcement authorities in those countries and Lebanon.
Following the attack, Israel was fast to blame the Burgas blast on Hezbollah and Iran. But the attack remained unclaimed. In spite of pressure from Israel, the Bulgarian authorities said they would name the perpetrators only when they gather sufficient evidence.
Tehran has denied responsibility and accused Israel of plotting and carrying out the blast. Hezbollah has not publicly responded to charges by Israel and US agencies that it played a role.
According to international media reports, the conclusions of the Bulgarian investigation may open the way for the EU to join the United States in including Hezbollah, a powerful Shi'ite Islamist militia that is part of the Lebanese government, on its list of terrorist organisations.
However, Ashton’s reaction appears to indicate that Hezbollah will not be included in the EU list of terrorist organisations anytime soon.
For one, the name Hezbollah doesn’t appear in the statement. Also, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy speaks of the need of an “assessment” of the Bulgarian investigation, as well as to bringing to justice the terrorist who planned the attack.
“The High Representative underlines the need for a reflection over the outcome of the investigation. The EU and Member States will discuss the appropriate response based on all elements identified y the investigators,” the statement ends.