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Wed 2 Jul 2008 06:06 PM

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Britain to ban Hezbollah's military wing

Home Office move makes it offence to belong to, raise funds for or encourage group.

Britain on Wednesday moved to ban the entire military wing of Hezbollah, adding it to its blacklist of designated terrorist groups.Toughening its stance on the Shi'ite Lebanese movement, the Home Office move makes it a criminal offence to belong to, raise funds or encourage support for the group's military wing.

The interior ministry said it took the action because Hezbollah's military branch was supporting militants in Iraq and Palestinian terror groups.

London has already banned Hezbollah's External Security Organisation (ESO), which it considers the group's "terrorist wing".

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith laid the order in parliament, which, if approved, would substitute for the existing proscription against the ESO.

"Hezbollah's military wing is providing active support to militants in Iraq who are responsible for attacks both on coalition forces and on Iraqi civilians, including providing training in the use of deadly roadside bombs," junior Home Office minister Tony McNulty said.

"Hezbollah's military wing also provides support to Palestinian terrorist groups in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

"It is because of this support for terrorism in Iraq and Occupied Palestinian Territories that the government has taken this action.

"Proscription of Hezbollah's military wing will not affect the legitimate political, social and humanitarian role Hezbollah plays in Lebanon, but it sends out a clear message that we condemn Hezbollah's violence and support for terrorism," he said.

Hezbollah, which claimed to have forced Israel's pullout from south Lebanon in May 2000 after two decades of occupation, sees itself as the legitimate "resistance" to the Jewish state.

The movement, which is also a political party, is taking part in Lebanon's new government of national unity.

Hezbollah is on the US State Department list of terrorist organisations and as such Washington has no dealings with the group.

Britain's home secretary can proscribe any organisation she believes is "concerned in terrorism", which means committing, participating, preparing for, promoting, encouraging or otherwise being concerned in terrorism in Britain or abroad.

Groups can also be banned for glorifying terrorism.

Proscription also makes it a criminal offence to wear clothing or carry articles in public "which arouse reasonable suspicion that a person is a member or supporter".

More than 40 groups are classed as international terrorist organisations - including the ESO - and proscribed under Britain's Terrorism Act 2000.

Two are proscribed for glorifying terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2006.

Fourteen organisations in Northern Ireland, among them the Irish Republican Army (IRA), are proscribed under previous legislation.

The majority of the proscribed groups are Islamist organisations, including Al-Qaeda, but the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam, the Basque separatists ETA and the Kurdish separatist group PKK are also listed.

Britain removed Iran's main exiled opposition group from its terrorist blacklist on June 24, following a court ruling in May that the government had to lift the ban.

The order removed the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, which was originally banned in 2001 but said it had since disarmed, from the list of proscribed groups.

Britain ramped up its anti-terror measures in the wake of both the September 2001 attacks in the United States and the July 2005 suicide bombings in London.