LIMASSOL, Cyprus – A Hezbollah member appeared in a Cypriot court on Thursday for the last time before it rules on whether he plotted to attack Israeli interests on behalf of the Iran-backed terror group.

If the court finds the Lebanese-Swedish man Hossam Taleb Yaccoub guilty when it delivers a verdict on March 21, it will strengthen calls for the EU to follow the US lead and declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Yaccoub was arrested in the Cypriot port city of Limassol last year, two weeks before a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in July, an attack Sofia blamed on Hezbollah, a charge the group denied.

The prosecution says Yaccoub tracked the movements of Israeli tourists in Burgas, a popular holiday destination in the eastern Mediterranean, noting arrival times of flights from Israel and registration numbers of buses ferrying visitors to hotels.

He pleaded not guilty to eight counts of conspiracy, consent to commit a crime and participation in a criminal organization.

Yaccoub, who was 24 when arrested, has not denied he is a member of Hezbollah or that he carried out courier duties for the organization in Europe. He says he never plotted any crime but merely acted on the instructions of a handler, who always wore a mask whenever they met.

In a wood-paneled courtroom packed with high school students observing the proceedings, Yaccoub nodded in greeting before taking his seat in the dock, head bowed as he listened intently to proceedings translated from Greek to Arabic.

Unlike earlier appearances, Yaccoub was clean-shaven, and had laces in his shoes. The hearing was mostly procedural, with prosecutors and defense lawyers filing their closing arguments in writing.

The EU has resisted pressure from the US and Israel to blacklist Hezbollah, arguing this could destabilize Lebanon’s fragile government and contribute to instability in the Middle East.

But a guilty verdict in Cyprus would add to the pressure created by the bombing in Bulgaria – with both countries EU members – for the 27- nation bloc to crack down on the organization.

Hezbollah, which is now a powerful part of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, says the accusations against it are part of an Israeli smear campaign.

The fact that it is currently not designated a criminal group is a matter Yaccoub’s defense team is trying to use to its advantage.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called on the EU, which Israel has pressed for some two decades to put Hezbollah on its terrorist list, to “draw the necessary conclusions.”

“The attack in Burgas was an attack on European soil against an EU country,” Netanyahu said.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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