INTERVIEW-EU blacklisting of Hezbollah would disrupt financing

Nicholas Vinocur
Reuters Middle East

* Bulgaria urges tougher measures against Hezbollah

* Israeli minister says Hezbollah draws financing from EU

PARIS, Feb 19 (Reuters) - A decision by the European Union

to blacklist Hezbollah would interrupt the group's financing

because much of the money it uses to fund militant operations

comes from European capitals, Israel's civil defence minister

said on Tuesday.

Bulgaria is pressing the EU to toughen its stance toward

Hezbollah after it blamed the Lebanese Islamist movement for a

bus bombing that killed five Israelis at a Bulgarian Black Sea

resort last year.

The EU has resisted pressure from the United States and

Israel to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group, arguing this

could destabilise a fragile government in Lebanon and contribute

to instability in the Middle East.

The support of Hezbollah, a powerful political and guerrilla

Shi'ite Muslim movement that is armed and funded by Iran, is

vital to the authority of Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

But Avi Dichter, in Paris to discuss the matter with French

officials, told Reuters the EU should blacklist the group

because it also drew a large portion of its funds from European

capitals and later laundered the money.

"Europe, that's the real base of Hezbollah ... If they won't

be able to gather money or to raise finances in Europe, they are

going to be in trouble," he said, adding the funding came from a

network of charities and front-companies.

Hezbollah fought against Israel in a 34-day war in 2006

after the group captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border

raid. Some 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, were

killed and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died.

The results of Bulgaria's investigation into Hezbollah's

alleged involvement in the bus bombing are likely to take weeks

or months to deliver.

EU diplomats have said their stance on whether to blacklist

the group will depend on the evidence Bulgaria produces.

In France, officials also say privately they are concerned

that listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation could

destabilise Lebanon where some 1,000 French peacekeeping troops

are deployed following a reduction last year.

"I wish they (France) will be smart enough, brave enough to

take a step without thinking how it's going to affect the

stability or the lack of stability in Lebanon," said Dichter, a

former director of Israel's Shin Bet internal security service.

"Lebanon has so many problems that defining them (Hezbollah)

as a terror organisation or not, that's not the key issue."

Sectarian tensions, smouldering from the 1975-1990 civil

war, have been re-ignited in Lebanon by the mainly Sunni Muslim

revolt in neighbouring Syria against Hezbollah's ally President

Bashar al-Assad.

(Editing by Alison Williams)