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France Will Not Follow Britain’s Lead in Blacklisting Hezbollah

France Will Not Follow Britain’s Lead in Blacklisting Hezbollah

Tuesday, 26 February, 2019 - 06:45
French President Emmanuel Macron. (Reuters)
Beirut, Paris – Caroline Akoum and Michel Abou Najem
France will not blacklist Lebanon’s Hezbollah as terrorist, announced President Emmanuel Macron Monday.

He stressed that Paris will continue to distinguish between Hezbollah’s military and political wings because this allows Lebanon to maintain its policy of disassociation, which will steer it clear from regional conflicts.

“France and no other power has the right to decide what Lebanese political parties are good and which are not. This is up to the Lebanese people,” he told a joint press conference in Paris with Iraqi President Barham Salih.

Paris’ decision stems from its decades-long commitment to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). It also believes that dialogue with Hezbollah could lead the party to “alter” its positions and policies.

He made his remarks hours after the UK said it was completely banning the group.

"Hezbollah is continuing in its attempts to destabilize the fragile situation in the Middle East – and we are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party," Home Secretary (interior minister) Sajid Javid said.

"Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety," he added in a statement.

Bahrain welcomed the development, describing it as an “important step” in regional and international counter-terrorism efforts.

In Lebanon, presidential sources said the country will wait to see what the repercussions the move will incur.

Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil said that London’s move “will not have a negative impact on Lebanon.”

“We have grown accustomed to such measures from other countries,” he added, while revealing that Britain had expressed to Lebanon its keenness on bilateral ties. He made his remarks after holding talks in Beirut with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

She said that the British position on Hezbollah is its own sovereign decision and it will not affect the EU’s stance on the party.

Lebanese deputy Prime Minister Ghassan Hasbani hoped that London would not change its policy towards Lebanon and that its decision would not affect the government.

“Hezbollah is part of the government through the policy statement that stresses Lebanon’s policy of disassociation,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat. “We refuse for the government to be taken away from this policy.”

Moreover, he hoped that European and American powers would distinguish between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah.

Director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, Dr. Sami Nader warned that London’s decision could pave the way for a similar move by the EU, which still distinguishes between Hezbollah’s political and military wings.

“This distinction has long given the Europeans a margin to maneuver and this has always bothered the Americans,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He predicted that London’s decision would negatively impact its policy towards the Lebanese government and the implementation of the CEDRE conference pledges.

“The legal groundwork is now open to all political and economic punitive measures, not just on the party and its ministers, but the entire government,” Nader warned.

The British ban, which will come into force on Friday subject to parliament's approval, means anyone who is a member of Hezbollah or invites support will be committing a criminal offense with a potential sentence of up to 10 years in jail.

Explaining its decision, the British government said the organization continued to amass weapons in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions, while its support for the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar Assad, had prolonged the conflict and the "brutal and violent repression of the Syrian people".

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