Gaza City – Palestinians in Gaza are reeling after an Egyptian court declared Hamas a terrorist organisation this weekend, creating fear and uncertainty among the local population.
But with the Egyptian border already closed to Gazans and Hamas leaders previously banned from Egypt, the situation on the ground may not change dramatically, observers said, noting talk of an Egyptian military operation against Hamas in Gaza is premature.
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Still, Palestinians linked to Hamas and other factions have poured into the streets throughout Gaza to protest the court decision.
“The Egyptian court’s verdict is a coup against the will of its people,” pronounced one protest sign at a demonstration on Sunday night, which brought hundreds of Hamas supporters into the centre of Gaza City. The green flag of Hamas was everywhere, along with signs praising Hamas and its armed wing, al-Qassam Brigades.
Hamas official Ismail Radwan told Al Jazeera that he believed the Egyptian court’s decision was designed to put pressure on Hamas.
“They want to find an imaginary enemy,” Radwan said, noting Hamas, as a Palestinian national liberation movement, was not involved with Egyptian internal affairs.
But tension between the two sides has mounted for years. Egypt is in the process of widening a buffer zone with the Gaza Strip, while systematically destroying a series of smuggling tunnels linking Gaza and Sinai. Egypt says these tunnels have been used to smuggle arms from Gaza to Sinai fighters.
Hamas' resistance is for the occupation in the Palestinian land, and it doesn't have any proceedings nor offices outside.
Radwan said Hamas was pressing Egypt and other parties to overturn Saturday’s court ruling, but added that in the meantime, Hamas would disregard the decision.
“Hamas’ resistance is for the occupation in the Palestinian land, and it doesn’t have any proceedings nor offices outside,” he said.
In January, an Egyptian court also declared al-Qassam Brigades a terrorist group based on allegations that al-Qassam carried out deadly operations in the Sinai Peninsula last October to support the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Qassam has denied the allegations.
Since Hamas came to power in 2006, Gaza’s border with Egypt has frequently been closed. The relationship between Egyptian authorities and Hamas soured further after the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July 2013.
Protesters who turned out on Sunday expressed dismay at the latest move by Egypt.
“This is not the first time we go through such injustice. Gaza has already witnessed a lot and we have nothing left to lose,” high school student Anas Abu Hashish, 18, told Al Jazeera.
Gaza resident Hisham Abu Khaled, 40, said the ruling came as a surprise to many.
“It’s definitely a shocking decision that comes from Egypt, the country which has been a great supporter to the Palestinian cause [for] ages,” Abu Khaled told Al Jazeera, noting that Hamas represents a large segment of the Palestinian people, so labelling Hamas as a terrorist organisation risks painting all Palestinians with the same brush.
“We refuse a decision that benefits the Zionist policy,” he said.
According to political analyst Tala Okal, the court ruling was based on relatively old data linking Hamas to the Morsi-era Muslim Brotherhood. Okal told Al Jazeera that the decision was meant to put pressure on both Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, adding that the Egyptian media has also played a role in the incitement against Hamas.
“On a political level, I don’t think the Egyptian politicians will adopt this decision, as it’s not in the interests of Egypt’s national security, nor the interest of the Palestinian people,” Okal said.
Rather than responding in a way that could worsen the situation, Okal added, Hamas should open new lines of dialogue with Egypt, either directly or through a third party.