Syria opposition hails EU’s blacklisting Hezbollah

July 23, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group on Tuesday welcomed an EU decision to place the military wing of Hezbollah on the bloc’s terror list as a “step in the right direction,” and called for the Lebanese militant group’s leaders to be put on trial for their role in the Syrian civil war.

Hezbollah, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, has sent its fighters to bolster President Bashar Assad’s forces in their assault on rebel-held areas in Syria. The group was instrumental in helping government forces seize the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border last month, and its members are believed to be fighting alongside regime forces in the central province of Homs.

The Shiite group’s role is highly divisive in Lebanon and has outraged the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting in Syria to topple Assad. The EU’s 28 foreign ministers placed Hezbollah’s military wing on its terror list on Monday after prolonged diplomatic pressure from the U.S. and Israel, which consider the group a terrorist organization.

Some European countries had pushed for EU action, citing a terrorist attack in Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort of Burgas last year that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian. Hezbollah’s military wing was accused of involvement, an allegation it denied. In March, a criminal court in Cyprus found a Hezbollah member guilty of helping to plan attacks on Israelis on the Mediterranean island.

But several EU nations have pointed to Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria as further reason for the move. The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition umbrella group, hailed the EU decision but stressed the need for European countries to take “concrete steps that would contribute to stopping the militia’s involvement in Syria.”

“We call for Hezbollah leaders to be put on trial for the terrorist crimes they committed on Syrian territory,” the SNC said in a statement. It did not say where they should face trial, and the prospects of senior Hezbollah figures ever appearing in a courtroom to answer for the Iranian-backed group’s role in Syria appear dim.

Iran, meanwhile, said the European Union’s decision was “strange” and “uncalculated” and said it serves Israel’s interests. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi told a news conference in Tehran Tuesday that the designation won’t change Hezbollah’s “popular and justice-seeking identity.”

In Syria, an al-Qaida-linked group warned civilians to stay off a road linking central Syria with the northern province of Aleppo, declaring it a military zone, as the rebels try to cut one of the regime’s main routes for supplying its forces in the north, activists said Tuesday.

The warning comes a day after rebels went on the offensive in Syria’s north, seizing three villages in the province where a military stalemate has been in place since last summer. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Aleppo Media Center said that Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, is threatening to target any vehicle using the road starting Wednesday. A copy of the warning was posted online.

The regime uses the route to ferry supplies to its forces in the north because the rebels already have severed the main north-south highway that connects Damascus with the embattled city of Aleppo, where regime forces have battled rebels in vicious street fighting for a year. The desert road was paved and opened by regime forces earlier this year.

The statement, which was stamped with the Nusra Front emblem, said the Syrian military “opened this road to civilian cars and trucks when in fact it is a military road.” “There are daily clashes and military operations there. Holy warriors have booby-trapped the road,” it said, instructing civilians not to use the road and claiming that the army will be using them as “human shields to cover its movements.”

If the rebels succeed in cutting the road, it will be a major blow to the regime, making it more difficult to bring in military reinforcements as well as other supplies to Aleppo province, most of which is under rebel control.

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