BEIRUT: The EU does not want a Cabinet change in Lebanon over Hezbollah’s alleged involvement in a bus bombing that killed five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last year because it fears a power vacuum, sources close to Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Friday.
Following Mikati’s statement commenting on Bulgaria’s charges that Hezbollah was involved in the bus bombing, the sources ruled out the possibility of the EU branding Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
“Europe still insists on sparing the government in Lebanon any jolt that might lead to its resignation, a move that would plunge Lebanon into a serious political vacuum,” the sources said.
Earlier this week, political sources claimed that if the EU decided to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization following the Bulgarian accusations, this would lead to the resignation of the government, which is dominated by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies.
Mikati’s statement, in which he said his government was ready to cooperate with Bulgaria authorities in the investigation into the bomb attack, was designed “to ward off evil from Lebanon because it cannot bear in these circumstances that a key member of the Cabinet [Hezbollah] be placed on the EU’s terror list.”
The Bulgarian government said Tuesday that two people using Canadian and Australian passports linked to Hezbollah had been behind the bombing of a bus at Bulgaria’s Burgas airport near the Black Sea that killed the five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian driver of their bus in July last year.
On the same day, Mikati said in a statement that Lebanon was ready to cooperate with Sofia in its investigation in order “to clarify the circumstances of the incident, serve [what was] right and safeguard justice.” He added that Lebanon condemned any attack on any Arab or foreign country.
Italy praised Mikati’s readiness to cooperate with Bulgarian authorities. “Italy appreciates the willingness expressed by the Lebanese premier Mikati to collaborate with the Bulgarian authorities to shed light on the dynamics of the attack in Burgas,” said a statement issued by the Italian Foreign Ministry.
The statement, released by the Italian Embassy in Beirut, said the Italian government was consulting with its EU partners on possible responses to Hezbollah’s alleged involvement in the Burgas bombing.
“The Italian government has taken due note of the recent developments in the trial taking place in Sofia regarding the tragic terrorist attack in Burgas against a group of Israeli tourists which, as reported by the Bulgarian government, seems to show evidence of responsibilities of elements relating to the military wing of Hezbollah,” the statement said.
“We are considering this issue very seriously, and we are willing to study it thoroughly with our partners also to agree on possible responses,” it added.
The Bulgarian accusations led to renewed calls from the United States and Israel on the 27-nation EU to designate Hezbollah a “terrorist” organization.
Diplomats in Brussels told AFP that Britain and other EU members are in favor but that with key countries such as France and Italy reluctant, there is little prospect of achieving the consensus required.
French newspaper Le Figaro claimed the two suspects in the Burgas bombing had returned to Lebanon after a third suspect, the bomber, was killed in the attack.
Quoting information from what it said was a “very classified” report presented by the Bulgarian Public Prosecution in which it accused Hezbollah of involvement in the bombing, the newspaper identified the three suspects as Jack Philip Martin, Ralph William Rico, both Canadian nationals, and Brian Jameson, an Australian.
The three were not on the Black Sea banks for tourism, but they were responsible for the attack that killed six people and wounded scores at Burgas airport, the paper said.
According to the classified information obtained by the paper’s correspondent from Bulgarian investigators, the first suspect died in the explosion with a 3-kilogram bomb he was carrying in a backpack.
His two accomplices have returned to Lebanon via a European country, the paper said.
It quoted Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov as saying in a statement: “We have information that Hezbollah financed two persons, one of them is the bomber. The two are holders of valid Canadian and Australian passports. The two are members of Hezbollah’s military wing. A third person who participated in the attack entered Bulgaria with them on June 28.”
Tsvetanov said Thursday the bomber who killed the five Israelis in Burgas had not intended to die in the attack, but wanted to return to Lebanon with his two Hezbollah-linked accomplices.
Labor Minister Salim Jreissati said Lebanon had not yet been officially informed of anything from the Bulgarian authorities about the accusation that Hezbollah had been behind the Burgas bombing.
He said the threat of placing Hezbollah on the EU’s terror list has been blown out of proportion “because the issue is still in the phase of investigation.”
“Attempts to put Hezbollah on the terror list is an old new issue. There are very influential European states which see that the inclusion of Hezbollah on the terror list will not be useful,” Jreissati told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
Hezbollah has indirectly dismissed the Bulgarian charges, and instead accused Israel of waging a global terror campaign against it. Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said Wednesday Israel made the “accusations, allegations and incitements” against the resistance party because it had failed to defeat it in the 2006 war.
Chouf MP Marwan Hamadeh, from the March 14 coalition, said the EU would delay a decision on branding Hezbollah a terrorist organization because such a measure would affect the Lebanese government.
“The Europeans will wait before taking a decision to place Hezbollah on the terror list because this matter will mean that the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati has entered the circle of terrorism,” Hamadeh told Asharq radio station. “Europe also knows that Hezbollah has begun using the U.N. [peacekeeping] forces in Lebanon as a hostages.”
Meanwhile, Iran’s ambassador to Bulgaria reiterated that Tehran was in no way involved in the Burgas bombing after Sofia blamed Hezbollah.
“The Burgas attack has nothing to do with Iran,” Gholamreza Bagheri told reporters in Sofia, adding that his country “condemned terrorism in all its forms.”
Immediately after the explosion at Burgas airport, the deadliest on Israelis abroad since 2004, Israel blamed Iran and its “terrorist proxy” Hezbollah.