UK Treasury blacklists entire Hezbollah group

Move by UK's Treasury to add Lebanon's Hezbollah to asset freezing registry follows 2019 interior ministry decision not to distinguish between the group's political and military wings.

LONDON - Britain's finance ministry on Friday said it had added Lebanon's entire Hezbollah movement to its list of terrorist groups subject to asset freezing.

The ministry previously only targeted the Shiite organisation's military wing but has now listed the whole group after the government designated it a terrorist organisation last March.

The change requires any individual or institution in Britain with accounts or financial services connected to Hezbollah to suspend them or face prosecution.

The group had "publicly denied a distinction between its military and political wings," the Treasury said in a notice posted on its website.

"The group in its entirety is assessed to be concerned in terrorism and was proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK in March 2019," it added.

"This listing includes the Military Wing, the Jihad Council and all units reporting to it, including the External Security Organisation."

A finance ministry spokesman said the change followed its annual review of the asset freezing register, and brought it into line with the 2019 decision by the interior minister to blacklist all of Hezbollah.

"The UK remains committed to the stability of Lebanon and the region, and we continue to work closely with our Lebanese partners," the spokesman added.

Last year, Hezbollah said Britain's decision to list it as a terrorist group showed London's "servile obedience" to Washington which gives it the same classification.

The heavily armed Shiite group was established in 1982 by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. It is widely seen as the most powerful player in Lebanon and is part of an Iranian-led regional alliance in conflict with US-allied Gulf Arab states.

Its capture of two Israeli soldiers in 2006 sparked a 34-day war in which 1,200 Lebanese people were killed, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Gilad Erdan, Israeli minister of public security and strategic affairs, said he welcomed the measure, adding that Europe was waking up to the threat from proxies of Iran.

Britain's move comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East, after the US killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in an air strike earlier this month. Tehran retaliated by firing a volley of missiles at US troops stationed in Iraqi military bases.

London currently proscribes 75 international terrorist organisations under terrorism legislation passed in 2000.

Inside Britain, Hezbollah has been a topic of political controversy. The opposition Labour Party has questioned whether the government's decision to censure Hezbollah outright was based on new evidence, or political opportunism.

Outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised by opponents for referring to Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movement as "our friends".