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Hamas to be declared a terrorist organisation by British government

Supporters of group could face up to 10 years in prison under plans to proscribe Palestinian movement's political wing
Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after winning the previous year's election (AFP)

The British Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced plans to proscribe the political wing of Hamas as a terrorist organisation, with those expressing support for the movement risking up to 10 years in prison.

Patel argued an outright ban under the UK's Terrorism Act 2000 was necessary because it was not possible to distinguish between Hamas' political and military wing.

The military wing of the movement, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has been proscribed in the UK since 2001.

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"Hamas has significant terrorist capability, including access to extensive and sophisticated weaponry, as well as terrorist training facilities," Patel tweeted on Friday.

"That is why today I have acted to proscribe Hamas in its entirety."

The home secretary aims to push through the change in parliament next week.

Wearing clothes that suggest support for Hamas, arranging meetings for the organisation, or publishing an image of its flag or logo that would lead to the same conclusion, would be in breach of the law.

The move would bring the UK in line with the United States, Israel and the European Union, which all designate Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Hamas political official Sami Abu Zuhri said Britain's move showed "absolute bias toward the Israeli occupation and is a submission to Israeli blackmail and dictations".

"Resisting occupation by all available means, including armed resistance, is a right granted to people under occupation as stated by the international law," said Hamas in a separate statement.

"Instead of apologising and correcting its historical sin against the Palestinian people, whether in the ominous Balfour Declaration or the British Mandate that handed over Palestinian land to the Zionist movement, Britain supports the aggressors at the expense of the victims.

"The occupation is terrorism. Killing the indigenous population, displacing them by force, demolishing their homes and imprisoning them is terrorism," it added.

Bennett appeal

Earlier on Friday, Patel told reporters in Washington: “We’ve taken the view that we can no longer disaggregate the sort of military and political side.

“It’s based upon a wide range of intelligence, information and also links to terrorism. The severity of that speaks for itself.”

Welcoming the decision on Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said: "Hamas is a terrorist organisation, simply put."

Earlier this month, it was reported by Israeli media that Bennett had asked UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to proscribe the group when he met with him at the UN climate conference in Glasgow.

Patel was forced to resign as Britain's international development secretary in 2017 after she failed to disclose meetings with senior Israeli officials during a private holiday to the country.

She met with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett's predecessor, and then-opposition leader Yair Lapid.

Lapid, now Israel's foreign minister, welcomed the UK's decision on Hamas, describing it as "part of strengthening ties with Britain".

'Anyone who waves a Hamas flag'

Patel will outline further details of the move in a speech on security on Friday at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank.

“Hamas is fundamentally and rabidly antisemitic,” she will say in the address. 

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“Antisemitism is an enduring evil which I will never tolerate. Jewish people routinely feel unsafe - at school, in the streets, when they worship, in their homes, and online.

"This step will strengthen the case against anyone who waves a Hamas flag in the United Kingdom, an act that is bound to make Jewish people feel unsafe.”

Earlier this month, a man appeared in court for wearing T-shirts supporting Hamas' military wing and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which was banned in Britain in 2005.

On three occasions in June, Feras Al Jayoosi, 34, wore the garments in the Golders Green area of north London, which has a large Jewish population.

Israeli blockade

Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after winning the previous year's election. 

The result was not recognised by its political rival Fatah, and internecine fighting broke out, which resulted in Fatah being largely routed from the Gaza, but maintaining power in the West Bank.

More than two million Palestinians live under Israeli siege in the Gaza Strip.

Blockaded by Israel since 2006, the area has been described as "the world's largest open-air prison".

Since 2008, Israel and Hamas have fought three wars, in addition to countless flare-ups between the two sides.

During the most recent 11-day conflict in May, 250 Palestinians were killed by Israeli air strikes on Gaza, including 66 children. 

Thirteen people, including two children, were killed in Israel.

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