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Bulgaria briefs Israel, EU on Burgas bombing probe progress

Jan. 17, 2013 6:02 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 18, 2013 11:59 A.M.)
SOFIA (Reuters) -- Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov paid a surprise visit to Israel on Thursday to brief leaders on its probe into a bombing in the Black Sea resort of Burgas last July that the Israelis blamed on Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas and Iran.

Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, in Dublin for talks with European Union ministers on Thursday, would also update Bulgaria's EU allies with the latest news, his office said.

Iran has denied involvement in the July 18 attack which killed five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian driver and the bomber. Hezbollah has not publicly responded to charges by Israel and US agencies that it also played a role.

Linking Hezbollah, a powerful Iranian-backed Shiite Islamist militia that is a part of the Lebanese government, to the attack may open the way for the EU to join the United States in branding it a terrorist organization and freezing its assets in Europe.

Bulgaria has said the bombing was plotted outside the country and carried out by foreigners but has yet to publish full findings from its long-running investigation, which officials say is not yet complete.

Foreign Minister Mladenov's office confirmed he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres to discuss the probe, but declined to elaborate.

"The issue was discussed. Results of the investigation will be made public once it is completed and Bulgaria has enough evidence to back it up," a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

An Israeli official told Reuters the talks with Mladenov "dealt with a sensitive security matter" and did not elaborate.

Publication of the investigation's findings could happen as early as next month, Bulgarian political sources said, possibly when the national security council convenes on Feb. 5.

In September, Britain and the Netherlands urged other EU governments to join the United States in imposing sanctions on Hezbollah for providing support to Syria's President Bashar Assad.

Iran, which accused Israel of orchestrating the Burgas bombing for propaganda purposes, also faces escalating Western sanctions designed to curb its controversial uranium enrichment and fend off threatened Israeli military attacks on its nuclear sites.

Israel's biggest-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, reported on Thursday that Mladenov was expected to give his hosts a copy of the investigative report during a "special visit" to Jerusalem.

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