UK makes move to ban membership in Hezbollah

(AP) — The British government will make inciting support for Hezbollah a criminal offense as senior officials accused the Iran-backed organization of destabilizing the Middle East.

A draft order laid in the U.K. Parliament on Monday will ban membership of Hezbollah, alongside two other groups. Subject to Parliament’s approval, the order will go into effect on Friday and being a member, or inviting support for Hezbollah will be a criminal offense, carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Hezbollah made electoral gains in Lebanon last year and now has three ministers in the government. The U.S. and others accuse the group of destabilizing the region through its military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad’s government.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he would take action against organizations that threaten safety and security and in Hezbollah’s case destabilize the Middle East.

“We are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party,” Javid said. “Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety.”

There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah officials in Beirut.

The European Union put the armed wing of Hezbollah on its terrorism blacklist in 2013, due to Hezbollah’s alleged role in blowing up an Israeli tour bus in Bulgaria. But unlike the United States, they had up till now differentiated between the group’s military and political wings.

The group does not specifically divide itself into armed and political wings and its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has said the group does not operate as two wings.

The British ban comes as the United States is increasing its pressure on Hezbollah, placing several sets of sanctions on the group and its regional backer, Iran.

Last week, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon described what she labeled as Hezbollah’s “growing” role in the new Lebanese cabinet as a threat to the country’s stability. U.S. officials have also expressed concern that Hezbollah would exploit the ministries it runs to funnel money to fund the group’s operations.

Ansaroul Islam, which seeks to impose its strict view of Salafist Sharia law in Burkina Faso, and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin, which has similar aspirations in Africa’s Sahel region, were also banned Monday.

By Associated Press