The European Union must remove Hamas from its list of terrorist groups, a top EU court ruled on Wednesday, a decision that compounded Israeli anger over Europe's stance on Palestine just as the bloc's parliament voted to recognize it as a state.
Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, has been present on the list since it was first drafted and voted on in 2001, a designation that brings with it an asset freeze.
In Luxembourg on Wednesday, the General Court of the European Union ruled that the decision to put Hamas on the list was based on "factual imputations derived from the press and the internet," rather than "elements which have been concretely examined and confirmed."
However, the court was keen to stress that it was not making a substantive judgment on whether Hamas was in fact a terrorist organization, ruling that the designation — which has been challenged by the group — could not be made on the basis of the evidence provided.
In anticipation of further action or an appeal by the EU, the court stated that Hamas' assets can remain frozen for the next three months "in order to ensure the effectiveness of any possible future freezing of funds."
Liliane Glock, Hamas' lawyer, told AFP that she was "satisfied with this decision."
"Every decision since 2001 imposing restrictive measures, including on the armed wing, have been annulled. I believe that this judgment shows the whole world that it exists and is legal."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly denounced the ruling, demanding that Hamas be put back on the list immediately and adding that he was not satisfied with the EU's explanation "that the removal of Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations is a 'technical matter.'
He said in a statement: "The burden of proof is on the European Union and we expect it to put Hamas back on the list forthwith given that it is understood by all that Hamas — a murderous terrorist organization, the covenant of which specifies the destruction of Israel as its goal — is an inseparable part of this list."
"We will continue to fight Hamas with strength and determination so that it never achieves this goal," Netanyahu added.
In Hamas' charter the organization lays out their desire to destroy Israel, by "confront(ing) the Zionist invasion and defeat(ing) it."
"Nothing can overcome iron except iron," the charter adds.
Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, and is seen by its supporters as engaging in legitimate resistance against Israel.
Hamas and Israel engaged in a 50-day war this summer, during which more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed — the majority of whom were civilians. On the Israeli side 66 soldiers died, along with five civilians, and one Thai national.
The long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is also being deliberated in other chambers across the world this week.
On Wednesday the European Parliament voted for a conditional recognition of Palestinian statehood, with 498 votes in favor and 88 against. There were also 111 abstentions.
The motion they passed was seen as a compromising solution, and read: "(The European 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."
In October, the UK parliament voted to recognize Palestine. The final result saw an overwhelming majority of 274 members of parliament (MPs) vote for the move, with just 12 opposing it.
Other European Union countries that have passed mainly non-binding recognition votes include Sweden, France, Ireland, and Spain.
In New York, a draft resolution will be brought to the United Nations on Wednesday that will call for an end to Israeli occupation and a return to the agreed 1967 borders, despite the US warning that they will veto it. Jordan will officially submit the resolution to the UN on behalf of Palestine, as Palestine currently only has observer status. The document will include a deadline of November 2016, by which time it stipulates that Israel must have withdrawn.
"We will submit our project to the UN Security Council tomorrow [Wednesday]," a senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told AFP on Tuesday.
Palestinian officials met for talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry in London this week. He was expected to attempt to dissuade them from submitting the UN resolution.
On Sunday, Hamas celebrated the 27th anniversary of the group's creation with a military parade. Abu Obeida, the spokesman for the Hamas military-wing, announced to the assembled crowd: "We will not lay down our weapons until we use them to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque," referring to the holy site known as the Temple Mount by Jews which has been the focus of recent violence in Jerusalem.
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