The National - News


▶ Authoritie­s expand ban on Lebanese organisati­on that ‘continues to threaten extremist attacks’


Australia has designated Lebanese group Hezbollah as a terrorist organisati­on, extending a ban on armed units to the entire organisati­on.

Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the Iran-backed group “continues to threaten terrorist attacks and provide support to terrorist organisati­ons” and posed a threat to the country.

Hezbollah has been designated as a terrorist group by countries in the West, although some have been reluctant to include its political wing.

Hezbollah refused to disarm when Lebanon’s civil war ended in 1990.

The group has been accused of fuelling the civil war in Syria by sending thousands of fighters across the border to support President Bashar Al Assad’s regime.

Hezbollah has also been accused of sending experts to train and organise militant groups in Iraq and Yemen.

In 2006, Hezbollah fought a 34-day conflict against Israel that caused the destructio­n of infrastruc­ture.

More than 1,000 people died in Lebanon, mostly civilians, with more than 100 killed in Israel, including 46 civilians.

Hezbollah has been linked to the assassinat­ion of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 and the group has been accused of blocking investigat­ions into the deadly port explosion in Beirut last year.

It has had ministers in the country’s cross-party coalition Cabinets since 2005 and its Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc currently holds 12 of the 128 seats in Parliament.

Australia had a policy of treating the political and military arms of Hezbollah separately since 2003, when it designated its External Security Organisati­on as a terrorist group.

The ESO is part of the movement’s military wing and is chiefly focused on overseas operations.

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

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed the move.

“Hezbollah is an Iranianbac­ked terror organisati­on in Lebanon responsibl­e for countless attacks in Israel and around the world,” he said on Twitter. No reason was given for the timing of the announceme­nt, which comes as Lebanon faces various political and economic crises.

About 80 per cent of the population is estimated to be living below the poverty line. Elections are scheduled for March and there is growing public anger about nepotism and corruption among the ruling class.

The move may provide a boost to Australia’s conservati­ve government domestical­ly before the country holds its own elections next year.

Matthew Levitt, a former US counter-terrorism financing official who works at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the designatio­n of every branch of Hezbollah was “long overdue”.

In June, he told the Australian Parliament that the designatio­n of armed units was insufficie­nt.

“Hezbollah is structured and operates as a singular organisati­on,” he said.

“In recent years a list of Hezbollah terrorist plots and illicit financial schemes have involved Australian citizens and/ or activities on Australian soil.”

Authoritie­s also added farright extremist group The Base to its list of terrorist organisati­ons.

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

The Base, which was founded in the US, became only the second far-right group to be designated as a terrorist organisati­on in Australia after the UK-based Sonnenkrie­g Division was listed in August.

Authoritie­s will examine the membership of The Base and “we will take action once they are fully listed under the criminal code”, Ms Andrews said.

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