The Palestinian Islamic group Hamas must be removed from the EU’s terrorism blacklist, but its assets will stay frozen, a European court ruled on Wednesday.
The move, described by the European Union as a technicality, quickly drew Israeli condemnation and praise from the Gaza-based organization.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the EU to return the group to the terror list, saying Israel was “not satisfied with EU’s explanations that taking Hamas off the terror list is a ‘technical matter.'”
“The burden of proof falls on the EU, and we expect it to permanently return Hamas to the list, so everyone will understand that it is an inseparable part of it — Hamas is a murderous terror organization that emphasizes in its charter that its goal is to destroy Israel,” he said in a statement.
The original listing in 2001 was based not on sound legal judgments but on conclusions derived from the media and the Internet, the General Court of the European Union said Wednesday.
But it stressed that Wednesday’s decision to remove Hamas was based on technical grounds and does “not imply any substantive assessment of the question of the classification of Hamas as a terrorist group.”
The freeze on Hamas’s funds will also temporarily remain in place for three months pending any appeal by the EU, the Luxembourg-based court said.
The General Court hears cases brought by individuals and member states against EU institutions.
“This legal ruling is clearly based on procedural grounds and it does not imply any assessment by the Court of the substantive reasons for the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation,” a spokesperson for the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said. “It is a legal ruling of a court, not a political decision taken by the EU governments.”
The EU will continue to uphold the principles of the Middle East Quartet, which implies that it will not engage with Hamas until the group renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
EU institutions are carefully studying the ruling will, “in due course, take appropriate remedial action, including any eventual appeal to the ruling,” Mogherini’s spokesperson said. “In case of an appeal the restrictive measures remain in place.”
In a meeting Wednesday morning with the Foreign Ministry, EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen said that EU intends to do everything it can to get Hamas back on the list.
The EU had asked Israeli officials not to cause a public row over the affair, according to Channel 10, and Jerusalem had kept quiet until Netanyahu’s statement Wednesday.
French-Jewish lawmaker Meyer Habib decried the decision and said the European Union failed to combat the “modern cancer that is jihad.”
“We need to open our eyes! Yesterday the Taliban killed 120 children. IS, Hamas, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Taliban — each one is a separate branch on the same tree: a tree of hatred and terror.”
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the ruling a victory for the Palestinian nation and for its rights. Barhoum’s counterpart Sami Abu Zuhri said it was a correction of a political mistake by the EU.
Hamas’s military wing was added to the European Union’s first-ever terrorism blacklist drawn up in December 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The EU blacklisted the political wing of Hamas in 2003.
“The General Court finds that the contested measures are based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the Internet,” the court said.
Instead, such an action had to be based on facts previously established by competent authorities, it said.
The lawyer for Hamas, Liliane Glock, told AFP she was “satisfied with the decision.”
The move stemmed from a petition recently submitted to the European Court of Human Rights on a related matter concerning Tamil terrorists.
During those proceedings, it was argued that the EU had designated Hamas a terror group on the basis of information provided by the United States, while EU regulations require that the EU’s own material be used as the basis for such a designation, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported Tuesday.
Based on this, the EU would temporarily remove Hamas from its list of designated terror groups, but swiftly return it to that list once the correct paperwork has been processed.
Channel 10 said that the EU has kept Israel informed about the process, and that there have been contacts with top Israeli officials, including Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.
Israel had raised concerns that Hamas could exploit any time lag to operate in Europe, the TV report said. The EU has promised Israel, however, that it will seek to block that possibility, including by issuing interim regulations.
Israel fought a 50-day war with Hamas-led fighters in the Gaza Strip over the summer.