European Union governments have agreed to designate the military wing of the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hizballah as a terrorist organization.
The decision was made unanimously on July 22 by foreign ministers of the 28 EU nations at a meeting in Brussels.
The designation means visa bans will be imposed on individuals and the assets of organizations associated with Hizballah will be frozen.
Hizballah's armed wing, which has close links to Iran, has been connected to a bomb attack last year that targeted Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, which is an EU member state.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told a news conference in Brussels that the decision is meant to send a clear signal that the EU will not tolerate terrorism on its soil.
"I welcome that together we made a crystal clear decision today in the fight against terrorism," he said. "We will put Hizballah's military arm on the list of terrorist groups. Terrorist activities inside of the European Union are unacceptable and will be met with [a] resolute, decisive, and, above all, joint response by Europe."
The EU’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton indicated that the move was intended as a signal to Lebanon.
"I think it is, of course, partly a political signal but also partly a real signal that we are not prepared to see terrorism in any shape or form as a means of achieving what you might argue are political ends," she said, adding that "while we want to be clear, too, in our support for political parties in Lebanon and the people of Lebanon, we've made a very clear distinction in so doing."
In Washington, the White House maintained that the EU designation sends a strong message to Hizballah militants that they cannot operate with impunity.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on other governments to follow the EU's lead and "take steps to begin reining in Hizballah terrorist and criminal activities."
Hizballah has also recently become involved in the Syrian conflict in support of President Bashar al-Assad's government forces.
Earlier, some EU nations had resisted the move, arguing it would destabilize Lebanon and add tensions to the Middle East.
But Israel, which fought a month-long war with Hizballah in the summer of 2006, welcomed the move. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni called the EU decision "a very important step."
"Hizballah is a terrorist organisation but it is very important that those pragmatists in the region would understand that the international community cannot except those [who resort to terrorism while] trying to hide as or to put [on] a mask of a political party," he said. "It did not work and, I am glad. I am glad for this decision, it is very important."
Alwalid Sukkarieh, a member of Lebanon's parliament from Hizballah, denounced the EU move, claiming it puts Europe "in confrontation" with his party and its supporters.
"This step won't affect Hizballah or the resistance," he said. "The resistance is present on the Lebanese territories and not in Europe. [Hizballah] is not a terrorist group to commit acts of terror in Europe. The resistance is different and [terrorism] is forbidden by [Islam]. By taking this decision Europe puts itself in confrontation with this segment of people in our region -- Hizballah and its supporters and even all other regional forces of confrontation."
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Lebanon regrets the EU's decision, but said Beirut will maintain its relations with EU members.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP