07/22/2013 16:11 EDT | Updated 09/21/2013 05:12 EDT

Baird welcomes 'courageous' EU decision to blacklist Hezbollah

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird applauded the European Union's decision Monday to add the armed wing of Hezbollah to a list of terrorist organizations.

"Canada welcomes the European Union’s courageous decision to list the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity," Baird said in a toughly-worded statement released Monday. "The designation made by all 28 member states of the EU exposes Hezbollah for what it is: a terrorist group."

Baird noted Canada listed Hezbollah as a terrorist entity under the Criminal Code in December, 2002.

The unanimous decision was reached by the EU's 28 foreign ministers at their monthly meeting Monday and is seen as a major policy change toward the Middle East.

Hezbollah is a major political party in Lebanon, where it has dominated the government since 2011. It has been criticized for its hostility toward Israel and its support of Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Its armed wing has been accused of terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East.

Pressure has grown on Europe to act in the wake of two terrorist incidents in 2012: a plot to attack Israelis in Cyprus and a bus bombing that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver. A Canadian "dual national" living in Lebanon is suspected in helping carry out the Bulgarian bombing.

"Hezbollah’s foiled plot in Cyprus and its tragic bombing of a tourist bus in Bulgaria last year are but two examples of Hezbollah's growing global reach," Baird said in his statement.

"It has long played a destabilizing role around the world, and in close partnership with the regressive clerical dictatorship of Iran actively assists Assad in the brutal murder of countless civilians in Syria."

Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney also tweeted his approval of the EU decision Monday.

"Glad that the European Union has finally designated the vile, anti-Semitic hate group Hizbollah to its list of banned terrorist entities," Kenney tweeted, using an alternative spelling for the group's name.

U.S. supports move

The United States and Israel had both pressured Europe to make the move. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement Monday saying the decision will allow European law enforcement agencies to crack down on Hezbollah's fundraising, logistical activity and terrorist plotting on European soil.

"As Hezbollah has deepened its support for the brutal Assad regime and worked to expand its global reach through increased involvement in international criminal schemes and terrorist plots around the world, a growing number of governments are recognizing Hezbollah as the dangerous and destabilizing terrorist organization that it is," Kerry's statement said.

The blacklisting includes asset freezes and paves the way for possible travel bans on individuals belonging to the military wing.

But implementation promises to be complicated as officials will have to unravel the links between the different wings within Hezbollah's organizational network and see who could be targeted for belonging to the military wing.