The U.S. State Department said Wednesday it had designated Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the the Palestinian Islamic resistance group Hamas, as a terrorist.
The State Department said in a statement that Haniyeh, along with two Islamist groups active in Egypt and one in the Palestinian territories, were listed as specially designated global terrorists.
Hamas, the group governing the Palestinian Gaza strip, rejected the U.S. move and said it showed Washington’s "hostile policies” towards the Palestinian people.
"This decision demonstrates the full American bias in favour of the Israeli occupation, and provides an official cover for Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people," the movement said in a statement issued later Wednesday.
The movement further warned that such designation was in "violation of international law, which has given the Palestinian people a right to defend themselves against [Israeli] occupation, and to choose their leaders.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in his department's statement that such designations are because Hamas is “sponsored by Iran” and because it threatened the stability of the Middle East and undermined the peace process.
But Hamas flatly rebuked such comments and vowed that the U.S. decision “will not deter us from carrying out our duties towards our people and defending them, and liberating our lands and holy sites".
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza told Reuters: "We reject and condemn the decision and we see it as a reflection of the domination by a gang of Zionists of the American decision...The decision is worthless."
Hamas is a popular Palestinian resistance movement that was founded in in 1987 shortly after the beginning of the First Intifada with roots in political Islam in line with the Egyptian Muslim brotherhood. Unlike the ruling Palestinian Fatah party, Hamas does not recognize Israel and has for decades advocated for the liberation of all Palestine, not only the West Bank and Gaza.
However, last year the leadership rewrote its charter and eliminated some of the statements that were perceived as hostile to the Jewish people, instead stating that Hamas' fight is against the Zionist occupation and not all Jewish people.
It also said that it was willing to work with other Palestinian groups and parties towards the goal of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza based on pre-1967 borders but without recognizing Israel.
Hamas briefly was the ruling Palestinian party when it won the general elections in the country’s first ever democratic vote in 2006 but was forced out of power months later after the U.S., encouraged by Israel, spent millions of dollars setting up a Fatah unit loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas to stage a coup against it.
Hamas retreated to the Gaza Strip and has full control over it. Israel have since enforced a blockade on the strip and launched several onslaughts against its more than 1.8 million residents. In recent months Hamas and Fatah have been engaged in renewed reconciliation efforts to end the rift and unite Gaza and the West Bank under the Palestinian government in Ramallah.
In December, after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza marking the 30th anniversary of Hamas's founding: "We will knock down Trump's decision. No superpower is capable of offering Jerusalem to Israel, there is no Israel that it should have a capital named Jerusalem."