New evidence on Hezbollah-Burgas
BRUSSELS (JTA)—Bulgaria claims it has previously undisclosed evidence that further implicates Hezbollah in a deadly terrorist attack last year on Bulgarian soil, JTA has learned.
A Bulgarian representative to the European Union said Wednesday that investigators have discovered that a Hezbollah operative was the owner of a printer used to produce fake documents that facilitated the July 19 bombing of a bus filled with Israeli tourists in Burgas. Five Israelis and their Bulgarian driver were killed in the attack.
The disclosure was made at a meeting of the CP931 working group, according to an EU diplomat who was present. The group is charged with determining whether the European Union will blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
“The Bulgarians put new evidence on the table during this meeting,” the diplomat said. “Their representative said the printer had been sold to someone from Hezbollah.”
The meeting was the second session convened at the request of Britain, which regards Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist entity and last month cited the Burgas attack in a motion to have the British position adopted by the European Union.
In February, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the Bulgarian interior minister at the time, said there was “well-grounded” evidence that Hezbollah was behind the attack. He reportedly added that Bulgarian investigators traced a printer that had produced two forged licenses back to Lebanon, but he did not say the printer was owned by Hezbollah.
At the meeting, the Bulgarian representative said his government would go along with any consensus vote on whether to blacklist Hezbollah, the EU diplomat said. The Bulgarian mission to the European Union declined to comment.
Bulgaria’s center-right government has collapsed and was replaced last month by a Socialist-led coalition that appeared to step back from Tsvetanov’s accusations against Hezbollah. Bulgaria’s foreign minister, Kristian Vigenin, has called the evidence on Hezbollah’s involvement “not conclusive”—a viewpoint echoed by Bulgarian representatives at the first CP931 meeting on June 4, who reportedly said the evidence was “weak.”
Vigenin later said his government was committed to the investigation and to previous findings.
Bulgaria’s inconsistent statements on the Burgas bombing “were a major argument for those opposing the proscription, and it came up a number of times” during the four-hour session, the diplomat said.
The diplomat said Austria and Italy were among the countries whose representatives opposed blacklisting Hezbollah at the CP931 meeting, along with traditional Eastern bloc allies of Israel and the United States, including the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Romania.
Sweden and Latvia said they supported the British initiative to blacklist the Hezbollah’s military arm, according to the diplomat.
Germany, France and Britain have come out in favor of blacklisting Hezbollah. The Netherlands is the only EU country that classifies Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist entity, a position it has held since 2004.
Also discussed at the meeting was the March 21 conviction in Cyprus of a man who admitted to gathering intelligence on Israeli tourists for Hezbollah and acting as a courier elsewhere in the European Union for the militia, including in Holland and France.
But “those who opposed blacklisting Hezbollah noted that the man was convicted under Cypriot law of belonging to a criminal organization, not a terrorist one, so there was no legal basis for considering the case at the meeting,” the diplomat said.
Last Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on EU states who refuse to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization to change their minds.
“It’s hard to see how you cannot have a consensus on Hezbollah as a terrorist organization,” Netanyahu said in Jerusalem during joint remarks with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. “If Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist organization, I don’t know what is a terrorist organization. I mean, they’re butchering people left and right across the world and now in the cities of Syria.”