Lebanon has formally asked Canada to remove Hezbollah from its list of illegal terrorist organizations.
But Ottawa was also pushed in the opposite direction yesterday by Jewish leaders who want tough action against two other militant groups with reputations for violence in the Middle East.
Lebanese Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Mohammed Issa met with a Canadian diplomat on Tuesday to request Hezbollah's removal from Canada's blacklist, an unnamed official told The Associated Press.
The federal government outlawed the Iranian-backed Lebanese group on Dec. 11, after one of its leaders was quoted as endorsing more suicide bombings around the world.
Those comments were translated incorrectly, Mr. Issa told Canadian Ambassador Michel Duval.
Lebanon considers Hezbollah a legitimate political party; it holds 12 seats in the Lebanese parliament. The U.S. State Department lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
Canada had banned activities by Hezbollah's military wing but until recently allowed its political wing to raise money in Canada for schools, clinics and other charitable causes in Lebanon.
That distinction enraged Jewish groups such as B'nai Brith Canada, which had taken legal action, claiming that the government was breaking its antiterrorism laws.
The legal challenge has been dropped now that Hezbollah is outlawed, and B'nai Brith is aiming its lobbying efforts at two other groups: Tanzim and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
Tanzim, an armed branch of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah political movement, has participated in terrorism, said B'nai Brith lawyer David Matas. Although it would be impractical for Canada to ban the group, Mr. Matas said, Canada should exert political pressure on Mr. Arafat to control Tanzim.
"We'd like to see an active policy stance on Tanzim," Mr. Matas said. A more urgent case could be made, Mr. Matas said, against another militia offshoot of the Fatah movement, Al-Aqsa. An Amnesty International report released in July that analyzed 130 terrorist acts in Israel since September, 2000, says Al-Aqsa is responsible for at least 20 attacks.
"In terms of dastardly deeds, Al-Aqsa is even worse than Hezbollah," Mr. Matas said.
Canada lists Al-Aqsa among suspected terrorist organizations whose funds have been frozen. But the group ought to be listed alongside Hezbollah and al-Qaeda among the organizations for which it is a crime for anyone in Canada to offer any "material assistance," Mr. Matas said.
The most important effect of such sanctions probably would be their symbolic value in the Middle East, Mr. Matas said, because neither group receives significant support from Canada. "We need to say that we are against terrorism."
Mazen Chouaib, executive director of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations, agreed that Canada can make a moral statement -- and safeguard the country -- by banning certain groups under antiterrorism legislation. But punishing only Arab terrorists is unfair, he emphasized.
"I would like to see the same restrictions on people who fundraise in support of the illegal Israeli settlements," Mr. Chouaib said. "These people need to be on the list, too. They are some of the most vicious people in the area."
Lebanon's attempts to have Hezbollah removed from Canada's terrorist list illustrate how highly Canada is esteemed in the Middle East, Mr. Chouaib said, but that reputation for fairness is being eroded.
"Canada has a very positive role to play," he said. "But this endangers our role as an honest broker in the region."
Such political considerations are not as important as a fact-based risk assessment when deciding which groups belong on the list, a government spokesman said. "The list that has been established can be modified," said Pierre Béchard of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. "But the facts are what we are interested in before we make any decision."