The General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg accepted the petition by Hamas in which it sought to have itself removed from the EU's list of terrorist organizations.
The court postponed implementing the ruling for three months to allow for the EU commission or one of the EU's 28 member states to petition the decision, which drew praise from Hamas and condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The hearing in the European court was technical and procedural, and did not stem from a change in the EU's position regarding Hamas.
Although Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem played down the importance of the EU decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked it vociferously.
Netanyahu said Israel is not satisfied with EU explanations that removing Hamas from the list of terrorist organizations is solely a technical matter.
"The burden of proof is upon the European Union, and we expect them to immediately put Hamas back on the list, as anyone understand that it is an inseparable part of it," said Netanyahu. "Hamas is a murderous terrorist organization, which states in its charter that its goal is to destroy Israel. We will continue to fight in with determination and strength so that it will never achieve its goal."
A senior Hamas official, Izzat al-Rishq, tweeted that the court decision is "a legal victory for Palestinian rights." According to the Twitter post, the decision rights an injustice done to the Hamas movement, "which is a national liberation movement."
The Palestinian terrorist group asserted in its petition that the decision to put it on the EU terror list was carried out without giving it an opportunity for a hearing and without sufficient evidence being presented. The European court accepted the petition based on the precedent of a similar case of the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka.
The court ruled in its decision that most of the evidence used to put Hamas on the list of terrorist organizations were from open sources – mainly press publications. The court made it clear that the ruling does not say anything substantial about the status of Hamas or the character of the organization's operations.
Likewise, the three-month postponement also means that Hamas assets within the EU will remain frozen as well as sanctions against its members. During this period EU institutions or member states will be able to appeal the ruling or make a new decision within the council of EU foreign ministers, which would define Hamas as a terror organization based on stronger evidence.
The EU ambassador in Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, met Wednesday with the director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, who expressed great disappointment from the EU court's decision, and demanded the EU act swiftly to reclassify Hamas as a terrorist organization.
The ambassador made it clear in the meeting that there is no change in EU policy regarding recognizing Hamas as a terrorist organization, and that the EU intends to use all means to reinstate the group on the terrorist list. The ambassador also stressed that the court's decision has no immediate validity, and that there will be no change regarding freezing Hamas funds in Europe.
The EU also issued a special statment in response to the court ruling.
"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," read the statement. "It is a legal ruling of a court, not a political decision taken by the EU governments. The EU continues to uphold the Quartet principles."
The statement continued, "The EU institutions are studying carefully the ruling and will decide on the options open to them. They will, in due course, take appropriate remedial action, including any eventual appeal to the ruling. In case of an appeal the restrictive measures remain in place."
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