France rebuffs US claims that Hezbollah is storing explosives across Europe
Paris' foreign ministry rebuffed Washington's claims, saying there was "nothing tangible" to confirm that the Shia Lebanese group, which has both political and armed wings, had stored ammonium nitrate in France.
"Any illegal activity committed by a foreign organisation on our territory would be sanctioned by the French authorities with the greatest firmness," foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters.
US Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan Sales accused the Iran-backed group of smuggling and stockpiling ammonium nitrate - the fertiliser that caused a catastrophic explosion in Beirut - from Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.
"It stores these weapons in places so it can conduct major terrorist attacks whenever its masters in Tehran deem necessary," Sales said, without providing evidence or details of the activities.
As an industrial chemical used in fertilisers, and an explosive for quarrying and mining, ammonium nitrate is considered safe if uncontaminated and stored properly.
When contaminated, mixed with fuel, or stored unsafely, it is extremely dangerous. This was the case in August, when 2,750-tonnes of it exploded at a port in Beirut, killing at least 190 people.
France has led efforts to galvanize change in Lebanon, warning that the combined effects of decades-long corruption linked to a critical debt crisis and one of the largest explosions in history pose an existential threat to the 100-year-old state.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Mustapha on Friday missed a two-week French deadline to form an emergency cabinet made up of experts whose job would be to address the crisis, after a parliamentary bloc affiliated with Hezbollah insisted on retaining the finance ministry.
Read also: US sanctions 'slow down' Lebanon government formation: report
While the US has designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation since 1997, France regards it pragmatically, recognising its influential constituency among the Shia Muslim community in Lebanon.
French officials argue that sideling it would hinder efforts to pull the country out of its dire predicament
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