Supporters of Hamas could face up to 14 years in prison if the British government succeeds in banning the group as a terrorist organisation, the Home Office said on Friday.
Home Secretary Priti Patel will push for the change in Parliament next week, arguing that it was not possible to distinguish between Hamas’s political and military wings.
The al-Qassam Brigades military wing of the Palestinian movement that rules the Gaza Strip has been banned in Britain since March 2001.
But an outright ban under the Terrorism Act 2000 will bring the UK into line with the United States and the European Union.
A Hamas official in Gaza said the group would wait until an official announcement from Britain before issuing a response.
Patel, who is on a trip to Washington, said the move was “based upon a wide range of intelligence, information and also links to terrorism”.
“The severity of that speaks for itself,” she said, calling Hamas “fundamentally and rabidly anti-Semitic”, adding proscription was required to protect the Jewish community.
In 2017, Patel was forced to resign as Britain’s international development secretary 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 Lapid.
If her latest bid is successful, flying Hamas’ flag, arranging to meet its members or wearing clothing supporting the group will be outlawed.
Politically, it could force Britain’s main opposition group to take a position on Hamas, given strong pro-Palestinian support among the more left-wing members of the Labour Party.
Earlier this month, a man appeared in a British court for wearing T-shirts supporting Hamas’ military wing and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the UK banned in 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.
Israel welcomes move
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett applauded the news, calling Hamas “a radical Islamic group that targets innocent Israelis and seeks Israel’s destruction”.
“I welcome the UK’s intention to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation in its entirety – because that’s exactly what it is,” he tweeted.
Foreign minister Yair Lapid said in a statement: “There is no legitimate part of a terrorist organisation, and any attempt to differentiate … is artificial.”
Lapid said the move was a result of “joint efforts” between the British and Israeli governments.
Founded in 1987, Hamas is against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Based in Gaza, Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, defeating its nationalist rival Fatah. It seized military control of Gaza the following year.
An 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza in May this year killed at least 250 Palestinians, including 66 children. Israeli officials say 13 people, including two children, were killed in Israel by Hamas rockets.