The European Union on Monday designated the armed wing of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, drawing praise from the Obama administration, Israel and members of Congress.
Foreign ministers of all 28 EU countries agreed to the action, which makes it illegal for Europeans to send money to Hezbollah and freezes the Shiite group's assets on the Continent.
The EU decision was motivated by concerns about Hezbollah's role in a deadly bombing in Bulgaria last year and ongoing involvement in Syria's civil war on the side of embattled President Bashar Assad.
"It is good that the EU has decided to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organization," Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said.
The Iranian-backed group plays a major role in Lebanese politics and has dominated the government since 2011. The political wing of the movement is not covered by the EU action.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry praised the EU for sending "a strong message to Hezbollah that it cannot operate with impunity, and that there are consequences for its actions."
The EU designation will have a significant impact on Hezbollah's ability to operate in Europe, Mr. Kerry said.
"As Hezbollah has deepened its support for the brutal Assad regime and worked to expand its global reach through increased involvement in international criminal schemes and terrorist plots around the world, a growing number of governments are recognizing Hezbollah as the dangerous and destabilizing terrorist organization that it is," he said.
The U.S. blacklisted Hezbollah in 1997, making no distinction between the political and military wings.
In Washington, Rep. Edward R. Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the EU designation was "an important step recognizing the grave threat Hezbollah poses to our mutual security."
"This was a long time coming," the California Republican added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauded the EU designation of the military wing, but he added, "As far as Israel is concerned, Hezbollah is one organization without distinctions between its wings."
Hezbollah fighters have played a significant role helping turn the tide of Syria's civil war in Mr. Assad's favor. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has admitted that his fighters support Mr. Assad.
The Bulgarian government has linked Hezbollah to a suicide bus bombing last year that killed 5 Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver. Courts in Cyprus have convicted a Hezbollah operative for planning failed terrorist attacks on the island.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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