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Germany will not classify Hezbollah as terrorist group: Report

Minister of State Niels Annen tells Germany's Der Spiegel that Hezbollah remains relevant factor in Lebanese society
Britain last month said it would ban all wings of Hezbollah for destabilising the Middle East (Reuters)

Germany will not follow Britain's lead in declaring the Lebanese movement Hezbollah a terrorist organisation, a senior official was quoted as saying on Friday, a decision that may fuel tensions with Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Minister of State Niels Annen told weekly news magazine Der Spiegel that Hezbollah remained a relevant factor in Lebanese society and the European Union had already added its military wing to a list of proscribed groups in 2013.

Britain last month said it would ban all wings of Hezbollah for destabilising the Middle East.

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Long the most powerful group in Lebanon, Hezbollah's influence has expanded at home and in the region. 

It controls three of 30 ministries in the government led by Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, the largest number ever.

Iran and Hezbollah, founded in 1982 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, are major players in the Syria war allied with President Bashar al-Assad.

Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel have pressured allies to ban Hezbollah in its entirety.

Arms freeze

Annen, who spoke to Spiegel after a visit to Lebanon, said Germany was interested in Lebanese stability and Britain's decision would have no direct impact on the position of Germany or the EU.

He rejected US criticism that Germany was doing too little to combat Iran's influence in the region and said Berlin's foreign policy remained focused on finding political solutions even in tough situations.

Berlin has criticised the US decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, and worked with France and the EU to set up an alternative financing mechanism that would allow European firms to do business with Tehran despite US financial sanctions.

Germany's refusal to ban Hezbollah as a whole could also add to tensions with Riyadh over its leadership of a coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

France, Britain and European arms makers are pressing Germany to end a unilateral freeze in arms shipments to Saudi Arabia imposed by Berlin after Khashoggi's death that is holding up billions of euros of weapons deliveries.

Call for donations

Earlier on Friday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had said other nations may follow Britain's example regarding the ban.

"Despite all that is said and done, they will be disappointed," he said in a televised speech.

"Their actions will not be able to make us poor, hungry or isolated. 

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"Those that support us will continue in their support - be they countries, people or our people and the people of resistance in Lebanon." 

The US has been steadily increasing financial sanctions against Hezbollah, spurring Nasrallah to call on Hezbollah's supporters to donate money to the movement.

"The sanctions and terror lists are a form of warfare against the resistance and we must deal with them as such," he said.

"I announce today that the resistance is in need of its [popular base]," Nasrallah said, adding that donations were needed to support the group's activities.

Nasrallah said he expected US sanctions "to get tighter on us and our supporters".

"We may see new names, and new people, and new organisations added to the sanctions lists," he said.