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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 August, 2003, 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK
UK likely to ban Hamas political wing
by Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

Hamas mourners carry body of Hamas leader killed in Gaza
Hamas funeral in Gaza
The UK Government is likely to ban the political wing of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, British officials say.

The move is linked to the end of the Hamas ceasefire which followed the killing of Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab by the Israelis in Gaza.

The issue is expected to be discussed by European Union foreign ministers at a meeting in Italy on 5 September.

A British official told BBC News Online that joint action by the EU would be best but that Britain could act by itself if necessary.

The military wing of Hamas is already banned in the EU but there has been resistance to the idea of preventing its political wing from operating.

A decision was last discussed by the EU in June but was put off. The timing was not felt to be right given the promising state of the peace process at that time.

Britain ready for ban

Britain is now ready to lead the argument for a ban on the political wing as well.

"We should now look at this. We want to do it," said one official.

The US Government has gone further. It designated five Palestinian charities "terrorist entities" and froze their assets on 22 August.

It wants the EU to do the same. This issue, too, is likely to be discussed at the EU meeting in September.

Among the groups is a British based charity, the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund, known as Interpal.

Issue for EU discussion

The Chairman of Interpal, Ibrahim Hewitt, headteacher of a private Muslim school near Leicester, told BBC News Online: "We are breaking no laws.

"There is no evidence but we are a Muslim charity and call me paranoid but Muslims are not flavour of the month.

"This would be a propaganda gesture designed to demoralise the Palestinian population."

Mr Hewitt said that the Charity Commission, which supervises the operations of all charities in Britain, had been to his offices 10 days ago and had expressed its satisfaction that the donations could be tracked from donor to recipient.

Charity Commission statement

The Charity Commission said in a statement: "The Commission already has an evaluation open into the affairs of this charity following allegations about its alleged links to Hamas political/militant activities.

"We will give urgent consideration to any further information that can be provided as a result of action by the US authorities."

Interpal raises 2-3 million pounds a year, said Mr Hewitt, and spends it on a number of relief efforts through local charities in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan.

Asked if Interpal supported Hamas he replied: "I believe that the Palestinians have a right to self defence and have a just cause but as a charity we remain neutral."

US Treasury charges

The US Treasury statement of 22 August stated that Interpal "has been a principal charity utilised to hide the flow of money to Hamas".

"Reporting indicates that it is the conduit through which money flows to Hamas from other charities.

"Reporting indicates that Interpal is the fundraising coordinator of Hamas."

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