While Cyprus tries to sort out its banking crisis, the small Mediterranean island nation is also seeking to stamp out terrorists from its territory.
A court in the city of Limassol has sentenced a Lebanese-Swedish dual-national to four years in prison for conspiring to attack Israeli targets on the island, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Hossam Taleb Yaccoub has admitted he belongs to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shia Muslim militant organization/army/political party that controls much of Lebanon, but denied he plotted any attacks.
This represented the first time that a member of Hezbollah has been convicted in a European court.
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In court testimony, Yaccoub, 24, only admitted to gathering information on Israeli tourists visiting Cyprus, but claimed he did not know how the data was to be used.
But prosecutors declared that Hezbollah paid him to conduct six missions for them since 2011.
"There is no doubt that these are serious offenses because by committing them, at the very least it potentially jeopardized the safety of Israeli citizens and targets on the territory of the Cyprus Republic," the court said.
Israel has accused Hezbollah of carrying out a number of terror attacks against Israelis around the world. Indeed, Yaccoub was arrested last July, only days before a bomb in Burgas, Bulgaria, killed six people in a bus carrying Israeli tourists. The Bulgarian government specifically accused Hezbollah of responsibility in the attack.
At the time of Yaccoub’s arrest, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged Iran was connected to the Cyprus terror plot.
“Iranian terrorism has no boundaries,” he said. “After Iran's failed attempts to carry out terror attacks against Israelis in Azerbaijan, Tbilisi [Georgia], Bangkok and New Delhi, we now learn of [Iran’s] intention to execute an additional terrorist attack in Cyprus. The international community must fight against the largest exporter or terror.”
Hezbollah has denied any responsibility in this or other attacks against Israelis outside Israel.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Yaccoub’s conviction may prod the European Union to put Hezbollah on his list of designated terror groups, like Hamas, as Israel demands. Thus far, Germany and Austria have refused to characterize Hezbollah as a terrorist group because they claim there is not enough proof to validate such a designation.
France has also refrained to tagging Hezbollah as terrorists since it would compromise whatever influence Paris still may have in Lebanon.
Among EU member states, only Holland lists Hezbollah as a terror organization, while Britain so classifies just Hezbollah’s military wing.
Earlier this month, prior to Yaccoub’s prison sentence, Israeli President Shimon Peres beseeched EU officials to include Hezbollah on its terror list.
"If you do not take measures against Hezbollah, then they may think that they are permitted,” Peres said in Brussels.
"I know this is not the EU's intention," he added.
Hezbollah’s financial strength could be sapped if it joins the EU list of terror organizations, as foreign governments and international agencies could freeze its assets.
Cyprus, an EU member, enjoys good relations with Israel ever since a series of bilateral agreements were signed in 1993. (Prior to that, Israel cultivated ties with Turkey, which precluded Israel from having warm relations with Cyprus, while Cypriots openly endorsed Palestinian statehood). But, after Israel’s relationship with Turkey soured following Ankara’s support of the Gaza flotilla in 2010, Cyprus and Israel have moved closer together, cooperating in a number of trade, defense and tourism agreements. The Turks have occupied northern Cyprus since 1974.
In 2011, bilateral trade between Israel and Cyprus totaled some $910 million, according to the Israel Project. Now they are planning to jointly develop huge natural gas and oil fields in the waters between the two nations (much to Turkey’s consternation).