Bulgarian Opposition Blasts Burgas Bombing Charge
The US and Israel are using the accusations leveled against Hezbollah in the 2012 Burgas bus bombing to pressure the EU into including the resistance group on its terrorist list. But the Bulgarian opposition is crying foul.
Israeli and US pressure on Bulgarian authorities to formally accuse Hezbollah as the organization behind the 18 June 2012 bus bombing in the city of Burgas – in which six people, including five Israelis, were killed – has not been entirely successful.
They have succeeded in pressuring the Bulgarian investigators probing the bombing to link the attack to Hezbollah. This has been done in such a way as to strike a compromise between the hardline stances of Israel and the US, and the cautious position of European countries, who do not see it in their interest to up the ante against Hezbollah at this juncture.
Bulgarian Minister of Interior Tsvetan Tsvetanov announced Tuesday, 5 February 2013, that two people believed to have been connected to Hezbollah were involved in the Burgas bombing.
Speaking after a special meeting of the country’s Consultative Council on National Security to discuss the investigation’s findings, Tsvetanov said the pair were part of a group of three who carried out the attack. The two had traveled on Australian and Canadian passports, and lived in Lebanon since 2006 and 2010, respectively.
The minister went on to say that “there is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects,” and that investigators had “a well-founded assumption that they belonged to the military wing of Hezbollah.”
The wording of his remarks was significant. It could foil longstanding Israeli and US efforts to pressure the EU to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization, as opposed to merely its “military wing.”
Tsvetanov also said that the Lebanese authorities had been asked for assistance in the probe.
From Lebanon to Bulgaria, the Opposition Reacts
The announcement was quickly challenged by Sergei Stanishev, leader of Bulgaria’s parliamentary opposition and the head of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, who charged that finger-pointing against Hezbollah was unfounded and politically motivated.
“It is obvious that Bulgaria’s government has chosen a political approach and is only repeating the interpretation alleged by Israel on the very next day following the attack, when the investigation had not even started,” he said, as quoted by the Sofia News Agency.
“The investigation is currently underway, and there is no way one can be talking about decisive evidence regarding the direct perpetrators, much less regarding the organization that is behind this tragic event,” Stanishev added.
The Agency quoted sources at the Bulgarian foreign ministry as saying that security had been stepped up at the country’s embassy in Beirut as a precaution against possible attacks.
The Bulgarian opposition’s skepticism over the Hezbollah accusation has made no impression on the Lebanese opposition. Members of the March 14 coalition seized on the news, and some predicted it would lead to the downfall of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, of which Hezbollah is a member.
Senior sources in the Future Movement told Al-Akhbar that it had already been agreed that Mikati would step down once a new election law is in place, “but now we have been unexpectedly given the Bulgarian accusation.”
The sources said Future Movement MPs discussed the issue at a meeting Tuesday, but decided not to discuss the Bulgarian charge against Hezbollah in the media for the time being.
Nevertheless, a prominent Future Movement MP remarked to Al-Akhbar: “How can a partnership be established in this country on the basis of terrorism?” He added that in demanding that the government quit, “we are not speaking from a position of hostility or score-settling,” but “out of concern for the country and its interests.”
Sources close to the prime minister denied that the government had any intention of stepping down in the wake of the Bulgarian minister’s announcement. The source attributed the suggestion to “the wishful thinking of the March 14 camp.”
In his public reaction to the announcement, Mikati reiterated Lebanon’s readiness to cooperate with the Bulgarian authorities “to shed light on the circumstances” of the incident, while stressing its condemnation of all such attacks in any European or Arab country.
Lebanese official sources said Beirut had been informed earlier that four members of Hezbollah would be accused of complicity in the bombing. It also knew in advance that the Bulgarians would draw a distinction between Hezbollah’s military wing and Hezbollah itself in order to avoid its placement on the EU terrorist list.
Yet no Lebanese officials were informed of the suspects’ identities, the sources said. The only request for assistance received from Bulgarian investigators by Lebanese judicial authorities was a request to search for an individual’s fingerprints in Lebanese records.
While Hezbollah remained silent, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to seize on the news to demand that the EU designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization and not distinguish between its military and political wings.
In a statement released by his office, Netanyahu thanked the Bulgarian government for its “thorough and professional investigation” and elaborated on how Iran and Hezbollah were “orchestrating a worldwide campaign of terror,” as well as supporting “the murderous Assad regime in Syria.”
The Israeli prime minister’s words were parroted almost verbatim by US President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, who urged EU states to ”take proactive action to uncover Hezbollah’s infrastructure and disrupt the group’s financing schemes and operational networks.”
The EU itself seemed less eager than the US and Israel to put Hezbollah on its terrorism list. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton merely took note of the results of the Bulgarian probe and stressed the need to “reflect on the consequences.” She said that “the EU and member states will discuss the appropriate response based on all elements identified by the investigators.”
Israeli media had reported in advance of the Bulgarian announcement that Israel’s contribution to the probe had enabled investigators to link the Burgas bombing to Hezbollah. Israeli reports over the past two months had anticipated that Hezbollah and Iran – Hezbollah as an organization and the Iranian state – would be accused of funding and implementing the attack.
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