The Arab League on Friday declared Iran ally Hezbollah a “terrorist” group, after Gulf monarchies adopted the same stance over the Lebanese Shiite movement’s support for the regime in Syria’s war.
The move reflects the worsening tensions between Shiite Iran and the six-nation Sunni-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia is a key member.
It comes a month after Riyadh cut ties with Tehran following demonstrations in which its embassy and a consulate were torched, in the wake of the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
Friday’s decision was endorsed by the majority of foreign ministers of the pan-Arab body except for Lebanon and Iraq which expressed “reservations”, said Bahraini diplomat Wahid Mubarak Sayar.
“The resolution of the League’s council (of foreign ministers) includes the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group,” he said reading from a statement at the Cairo headquarters of the League.
But Sayar said Algeria had some “observations” about the decision, although he did not elaborate.
He said the resolution denounced “Iranian interference” in the “internal affairs” of Arab countries, including Sunni-ruled but majority Shiite Bahrain where it allegedly “supports terrorism”.
In January, GCC member Bahrain said it had dismantled a “terror” cell allegedly linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia and fellow Gulf nations also accuse Iran of supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen, as well as attempting to destabilise their own regimes.
They also denounce its alliance with the Syrian regime and Hezbollah while support rebels who have been fighting since 2011 to topple the Damascus government and President Bashar al-Assad.
Iraq refused to endorse the decision, with Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari rejecting Hezbollah being labelled as a “terrorist” group — prompting the Saudi delegation to leave the room in protest.
Later in remarks to Egypt’s CBC Extra television, Jaafari praised Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah for “facing up to terrorism and Israel with courage”.
– ‘Party of God’ –
On March 2, the GCC — which also includes Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — declared Hezbollah a “terrorist” group.
It was the latest step taken by Gulf states against Hezbollah, which has lawmakers in Lebanon’s parliament.
It came days after Saudi Arabia in February halted a $3 billion programme for military supplies to Lebanon in protest against Hezbollah.
Announcing the funding cut, a Saudi official said at the time that the kingdom noticed “hostile Lebanese positions resulting from the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state”.
After that announcement, Saudi Arabia urged its nationals to leave Lebanon and avoid travelling there, with Qatar and Kuwait later issuing similar advisories.
The United Arab Emirates banned its citizens from travelling to Lebanon.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards created Hezbollah (Party of God) in the 1980s. Funded by Iran, it is the only side not to have put down weapons after Lebanon’s civil war from 1975 to 1990.
The United States, Canada and Australia have listed Hezbollah as a “terrorist” group. The European Union has also blacklisted its military wing.