Germany bans Hezbollah and launches police raids to find suspected supporters

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After lobbying by Israel and the US, Berlin outlaws all branches of the Lebanese militant group and raids 'linked' mosques and community centres

World | The Independent

Germany has banned all activities of the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah and designated it a terrorist organisation, a long-anticipated step that follows pressure from both Israel and the US.

German police conducted early morning raids on five sites which officials believe are closely linked to the political branch of the heavily-armed Shiite militant organisation.

The raids reportedly took place at mosques and community centres, and some of the private residences of whose who head up the organisations, in Berlin, Bremen, Muenster, Recklinghausen and Dortmund.

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German security officials said they believe up to 1,050 people in Germany are part of what they called Hezbollah's “extremist wing”.

"The activities of Hezbollah violate criminal law and the organisation opposes the concept of international understanding," said the interior ministry in a statement.

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It added that the move means that Hezbollah symbols including its flags are now banned at gatherings, in publications or in the media. Hezbollah assets can also be confiscated.

Since it is a foreign organisation, it is not possible to ban and dissolve it.

German's interior ministry also said Hezbollah calls for the violent elimination of the State of Israel and questions the right of the State of Israel to exist. Hezbollah supporters have staged many annual anti-Israel marches in Berlin. "The organisation is therefore fundamentally against the concept of international understanding, regardless of whether it presents itself as a political, social or military structure," the interior ministry said.

Israeli officials were quick to welcome the move. Together with the US, they had long lobbied Berlin to ban the group in its entirety.

"It is a very important decision and a valuable and significant step in the global fight against terrorism," said Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

"I call on other European countries as well as the European Union to do the same. All the parts of Hezbollah, including the social, political and military wings are terror organisations and they should be treated as such," he added.

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Benny Gantz, Israel’s’ ex-army chief who is pitted to share the position of prime minister with incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu, echoed Mr Katz’s words saying, “This is a significant step in the global fight against terrorism.”

Berlin had distinguished between Hezbollah's political branch and its military units, only designating the latter until German lawmakers called on the government to extend an existing ban last year.

At the time, German officials had warned that such a move was legally difficult because Hezbollah doesn't have any official presence in Germany.

The EU listed Hezbollah's military wing as a terrorist group in 2013, but not its political wing - which means only the military leaders can be sanctioned.

The UK added the entirety of the organisation on its sanctions list at the start of this year, after banning the whole group last March.

The US has designated the group a terrorist organisation since the 1990s.

Hezbollah was founded in 1982 during the Lebanese civil war and is currently headed by Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah and Israeli forces fought a war in 2006.

Perceived to be a proxy of Iran, it has fought alongside President Bashar al-Assad's army in the Syrian civil war.

It is also a significant backer of the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, which took office in January.

The US has long encouraged Germany to ban the group saying it engages in terrorist activities and is anti-semitic.

The American Jewish Committee hailed Thursday’s move as a landmark moment. "This is a welcome, much-anticipated, and significant German decision,” said AJC head David Harris.

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