The UK has announced a full-scale ban on Hamas, ending a distinction between the Palestinian militant group's political and military wings.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is adding Hamas to a list of banned terrorist organisations after she concluded it was no longer possible to make distinction between its activities in politics and promulgating violence.
This makes it a criminal offence to belong to the group, express support for it, help arrange its meetings or display its banners in public, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison for convicted supporters.
Hamas’s military wing was banned in 2001, but Ms Patel has determined that Britain can no longer treat its political arm differently.
“Hamas has significant terrorist capability, including access to extensive and sophisticated weaponry, as well as terrorist training facilities,” she said on Friday.
“That is why today I have acted to proscribe Hamas in its entirety.
"We’ve taken the view that we can no longer disaggregate the sort of military and political side," she added. “It’s based upon a wide range of intelligence, information and also links to terrorism. The severity of that speaks for itself.”
Founded in 1987, Hamas has roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. A report on the Muslim Brotherhood said last month that their supporters in Europe regularly give financial and political support to fund Hamas.
Dr Paul Stott, a security expert at the Policy Exchange think tank, said Hamas had sympathisers in the UK who sought to justify its terrorist activity, and claimed support from other exiled extremists.
Hamas-organised events rose to the forefront of British political debate when Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the opposition Labour Party, faced questions over a track record that included calling representatives of Hamas and Lebanese political party and extremist group Hezbollah his friends.
Mr Corbyn said he regretted how he had phrased his remarks but had been trying to use inclusive language to promote peace.
Dr Stott said the move to ban Hamas was overdue and brought the UK in line with other countries. Hamas is banned in its entirety in the US and EU.
It follows a similar move against Hezbollah, which was banned in its entirety in 2019 over what Britain said were efforts to destabilise the Middle East.
The ban on Hamas “really means that some people won’t be able to get away with using London as a base from which to support Hamas’s campaigns”, Dr Stott told The National.
“With freedom comes responsibility, and we can’t allow people to offer intellectual justifications and texts supporting terrorism here without that being challenged.
“The home secretary, I think, has made the correct decision here.”
Ms Patel is to give a keynote speech on Friday afternoon at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington. The development was announced in advance of that event.
She was expected to say the move would “strengthen the case against anyone who waves a Hamas flag in the United Kingdom”.
A Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri responded to the announcement, claiming Britain's move showed "absolute bias toward the Israeli occupation and is a submission to Israeli blackmail and dictations."
The movement itself rejected Ms Patel's arguments. "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.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed the decision, which the Israeli government said resulted from its own diplomatic efforts.
Tzipi Hotovely, Israel's ambassador to the UK, welcomed the fact that Hamas's political arm was no longer treated differently. The military arm of Hamas is known as the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades.
“Terrorism in suits is still terrorism,” Ms Hotovely said.
“It is impossible to separate between the political wing and the military wing of an organisation that has murdered innocent civilians for decades.”
Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007.
The ban on Hamas was also welcomed by Jewish groups in Britain, who said Hamas’s ideology had been linked to anti-Semitism in the UK.
Concern over anti-Jewish sentiment reached a peak during pro-Palestinian protests in May.
Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said the move ended a “dangerous loophole” that allowed Hamas to gather support in the UK.
“Hamas regularly espouses violent ideology and grotesque anti-Semitism,” she said.
“We are immensely grateful that it will no longer have any safe harbour or support in the UK.”