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Labour tells its MPs: reject call to ban Hezbollah

The advice came ahead of a backbench debate on the issue on Thursday organised by Joan Ryan, a Labour MP and chair of the party's Friends of Israel group.

    Jeremy Corbyn once described the Hezbollah terrorist group as 'friends'
    Jeremy Corbyn once described the Hezbollah terrorist group as 'friends' (Photo: PA)

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    Labour MPs have been advised not to push for Hezbollah to be banned in Britain because party leaders want to “encourage” the terrorist group “down an effective democratic path”.

    The advice came ahead of a backbench debate on the issue on Thursday organised by Joan Ryan, a Labour MP and chair of the party's Friends of Israel group.

    The briefing advises backbenchers: “There is a balance between making absolutely clear our abhorrence of using violence to achieve political ends and at the same time encouraging organisations down an effective democratic path.

    “Full proscription could be a move against dialogue and meaningful peace negotiations in the Middle East.”

    Ms Ryan will move a motion in the Commons noting Hezbollah’s “antisemitic ideology that seeks the destruction of Israel” and urging the government to add the group’s political wing to the list of proscribed organisations.

    Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, described Hezbollah, and the Hamas terror group, as “friends” during a parliamentary meeting in 2009.

    In 2016 he told a Commons committee he regretted using “inclusive language… which with hindsight I would rather not have used”.

    A Labour Party briefing document sent to MPs this morning and seen by the JC suggests banning the group in its entirety would hamper “dialogue and meaning peace negotiations” in the Middle East.

    The briefing note points out that Hezbollah’s political wing – which the terror group itself does not differentiate from the rest of its operations – holds seats in the Lebanese parliament.

    “The EU has taken the same approach as the UK, outlawing the military wing only with Australia. This is distinct from the United States’ position which is in favour of a blanket proscription of Hezbollah,” the note adds.

    It was written by Labour's Shadow Home Affairs team, led by Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary.

    The full briefing includes suggested questions for backbenchers to put to the government minister, including asking for a "balanced approach".

    It also suggests asking the minister to contact the Foreign Office to "understand the impact of proscribing organisations...on peace in the Middle East".

    A Labour Party source said the briefing note did not encourage MPs to reject a ban but had made clear the decision on proscription lies with the Home Secretary.

    Jennifer Gerber, Labour Friends of Israel director, said: "It is sadly unsurprising that the Labour frontbench would issue a statement on Hezbollah which fails to support banning the terror group in its entirety, and which makes no reference to its virulent antisemitism, its desire to annihilate Israel and its appalling role in propping up Assad’s murderous regime in Syria.

    "It is, moreover, utterly delusional to think that, having wreaked death and destruction throughout the region, Hezbollah can play any role in promoting peace.

    "We would urge Labour’s leadership to listen to this afternoon’s debate and reconsider its position.”

     

    Ms Ryan will open the debate by telling MPs: “Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation, driven by an antisemitic ideology, which seeks the destruction of Israel. It has wreaked death and destruction throughout the Middle East, aiding and abetting the Assad regime’s butchery in Syria and helping to drive Iran’s expansionism throughout the region.

    “It makes no distinction between its political and military wings and neither should the British government.”

    She is expected to list a number of terror attacks coordinated by Hezbollah in Israel and across the Middle East and globally, before paying tribute to Jewish groups including the Community Security Trust, Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council which, she will say, have “tirelessly campaigned” for proscription.

    Hezbollah’s military wing has been on the list of proscribed terror groups in Britain for a decade.

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