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March 3, 2019

Iran says UK Hizbullah ban wrong, irresponsible


March 3, 2019

TEHRAN: Iran condemned Britain’s decision to outlaw the political wing of Lebanon’s Hizbullah movement on Saturday, describing it as "wrong and irresponsible."

Britain said on Monday it would seek to make membership of the movement or inviting support for it a crime.

The decision followed outrage over the display of the Hizbullah flag, which features a Kalashnikov assault rifle, at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London.

"Iran considers Hizbullah a legitimate and legal force which plays an effective and undeniable role in helping its country’s political stability and safeguarding its security," the foreign ministry said on its website.

"It considers the decision to place Hizbullah on a terrorism blacklist to be wrong and irresponsible and one which will not contribute to the stability and security of Lebanon."

Hizbullah was established in 1982 during the Lebanese civil war and fought a 2006 war with Israel. It is also a major force in the country’s politics, holding three cabinet posts.

Britain blacklisted Hizbullah’s military wing in 2008 but had until now made no move against its political wing.

However, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Monday that any distinction between its military and political wings "does not exist".

"This decision does not change our ongoing commitment to Lebanon, with whom we have a broad and strong relationship," he said.

Tehran is a major supporter of Hizbullah and its "resistance" against the Islamic republic’s arch foe Israel.

Britain’s decision drew swift praise from both Israel and the United States.

Britain said on Monday it planned to ban all wings of Hizbullah, which Washington deems a terrorist organisation because of its influence in the Middle East.

London previously only proscribed its external security unit and its military wing.

“This British measure signifies deliberately ignoring a large part of the Lebanese people and the legitimacy and the legal position of Hizbullah in Lebanon’s administrative and political structure,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Qasemi, was quoted as saying by state news agency Irna.

Long the most powerful group in Lebanon and backed by Tehran, Hizbullah’s influence has expanded at home and in the region. It controls three of 30 ministries in the government led by Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s western-backed prime minister.

“In addition to ... helping preserve Lebanon’s territorial integrity over recent decades, Hizbullah has been one of the pillars of the fight against terrorism and terrorist groups such as Islamic State in the region,” Qasemi said.

Iran and Hizbullah are major players in the war in Syria and the fight against militant groups opposed to the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, which include Islamic State.

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