Australia lists Hezbollah as 'terrorist organisation'

Hezbollah is part political party and part militia. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia on Wednesday (Nov 24) listed all of Hezbollah as a "terrorist organisation", extending a ban on armed factions to the entire movement, which wields considerable power over Lebanon.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said that the Teheran-backed Shiite group "continues to threaten terrorist attacks and provide support to terrorist organisations" and poses a "real" and "credible" threat to Australia.

Hezbollah is part political party and part militia - the only group in Lebanon to have refused to disarm since the civil war ended in 1990.

The movement, which plays a pivotal role in Lebanese politics, has been accused of fuelling Syria's civil war by sending thousands of fighters across the border to prop up President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

In 2006, it fought a short yet devastating war against Israel.

Critics have accused the movement of killing former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, and more recently of blocking investigations into the cataclysmic 2020 Beirut port explosion.

Some countries have sought to distinguish between Hezbollah's political and militant factions, fearing a blanket ban could further destabilise Lebanon and hamper contacts with authorities.

Australia had such a policy since 2003, when it banned Hezbollah's so-called External Security Organisation - a part of the movement's military wing that is chiefly focused on shadowy overseas operations.

From now, membership of the entire organisation or providing funding for it will now be proscribed in Australia, which has a large Lebanese community.

Matthew Levitt, a former US counter-terrorism financing official now with the Washington Institue for Near East policy, said the move was "long overdue".

In June, he testified to the Australian parliament that the previous designation was "insufficent" adding that "Hezbollah is structured and operates as a singular organisation".

"In recent years a laundry list of Hezbollah terrorist plots and illicit financial schemes have involved Australian citizens and/or activities on Australian soil," he said.

Israel welcomes decision

No reason was given for the timing of Canberra's decision, which comes as Lebanon reels from spiralling political and economic crises.

Nearly 80 per cent of the population is estimated to be living below the poverty line.

Elections are expected in March 2022 and there is growing public anger about nepotism and corruption among Lebanon's ruling class.

The move may play well domestically for Australia's conservative government, ahead of its own elections expected next year.

Before 2018 polls, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the surprise move of recognising west Jerusalem as Israel's capital, helping secure votes in a battleground Sydney seat with a sizable Jewish community.

Israel's embassy in Canberra welcomed the decision, saying "there is no division between the political and the military wings of the terror organisation Hezbollah, and this acknowledgement is essential to combating the enduring threat of terrorism". Andrews also announced on Wednesday that Australia would be listing far-right group "The Base".

"They are a violent, racist neo-Nazi group known by security agencies to be planning and preparing terrorist attacks," Andrews said.

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