Hezbollah says British ban is an 'insult' to Lebanon


Beirut (AFP)

Lebanon's Hezbollah movement on Friday condemned Britain's decision to outlaw its political wing, describing the move as an "insult" to the Lebanese people.

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

The decision follows outrage last year over the display of the Hezbollah flag, which features a Kalashnikov assault rifle, at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London.

"The British government has insulted the sentiments and the will of the Lebanese people by adopting this decision," the group said in a statement.

"The Lebanese consider Hezbollah to be a big political and popular force and they have granted it wide representation in parliament and government," it said.

Beyond Lebanon, the group warned Britain the move would "invite hostility from the people of the region," and would harm its role in the Middle East.

Hezbollah was established in 1982 during Lebanon's civil war and is now a major political party in the country, holding three cabinet posts.

But British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement on Monday 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 added.

Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said senior British officials had agreed the issue should not "impact on bilateral relationships between Lebanon and Britain".

Bassil, whose Free Patriotic Movement party is allied with Hezbollah in government, added it "will not have direct negative consequences on Lebanon because we are already used to this situation with other countries".

The move earned swift praise from the United States and Israel.