Blow to Israel: EU court removes Hamas from terror blacklist
The Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas must be removed from the EU's terrorism blacklist, but its assets will stay frozen for the time being, a European court ruled on Wednesday.
The original listing in 2001 was based not on sound legal judgements but on conclusions derived from the media and the Internet, the General Court of the European Union said in a statement.
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.
Hamas, which has been in power in the Palestinian territory of Gaza since 2007, had appealed against its inclusion on the blacklist on several grounds.
The judgement comes hours before the European Parliament overwhelmingly backed the recognition of a Palestinian state "in principle", following a series of votes on the issue in EU nations that have enraged Israel.
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.
- European Parliament vote -
Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers were removed from the list in October after an almost identical judgement.
The lawyer for Hamas, Liliane Glock, said she was "satisfied with the decision".
"Every decision since 2001 imposing restrictive measures, including on the armed wing, have been annulled. I believe that this judgement shows the whole world that it exists and is legal," Glock said.
Lawmakers approved the motion by 498 votes to 88 with 111 abstentions, although it was a watered down version of an original motion which had urged EU member states to recognise a Palestinian state unconditionally.
The motion said the parliament "supports in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two state solution, and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced".
The vote came hours after a European court ordered the EU to drop the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas from its terrorism blacklist on technical grounds.
The socialist, greens and radical left groups in the European Parliament had wanted an outright call for the recognition of Palestinian statehood.
But the centre-right European People's Party of European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, the leading group in parliament, forced them into a compromise motion linking it to peace talks.
"There is no immediate unconditional recognition (of statehood)," EPP chief Manfred Weber said.
But his socialist counterpart Gianni Pittella insisted it was a "historic decision" and a "victory for the whole parliament".
Several European parliaments have passed motions urging their governments to recognise a Palestinian state in recent weeks in a bid to pressure Israel to relaunch the moribund peace process.
France, Britain, Spain, Ireland and Portugal have all passed votes to that end.
Sweden has gone even further, officially recognising Palestine as a state.
Hamas was founded in 1987 shortly after the start of the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, and was inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
There is a growing impatience in Europe over the failure to make progress in the Middle East peace talks.
Netanyahu demands EU immediately restore Hamas to terror list
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday demanded the EU immediately restore Hamas to its terrorism blacklist, after a European court ordered the Palestinian Islamist group's removal.
"We are not satisfied with the European Union's explanation that the removal of Hamas from its list of terrorist organisations is a 'technical matter'," Netanyahu said in a statement.
"We expect it (the EU) to put Hamas back on the list forthwith given that it is understood by all that Hamas -- a murderous terrorist organisation, the covenant of which specifies the destruction of Israel as its goal -- is an inseparable part of this list," he said.
Hamas, which has been dominated Gaza since 2007, had appealed against its inclusion on the blacklist on several grounds.
It hailed the court's decision as a "victory."
Israel and Hamas fought a bloody 50-day war in July and August which killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.