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The European Union’s Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that Hamas, the Palestinian political organisation, should remain in the bloc’s “terror” list, referring the case back to lower court.
ECJ judges on Wednesday overruled the General Court’s view of 2014 that the 28-nation bloc had insufficient evidence to maintain asset freezes and travel bans on Hamas.
That lower court found that the listing was based on media and internet reports rather than solid legal arguments.
However, the ECJ said that a decision by a competent authority was only required for an initial listing, with no such condition for subsequent retention.
In December 2014, the General Court said Hamas should be removed from the list because the EU’s decision to place it on the “terror” sanctions list was not the result of an independent investigation.
The European Council, in turn, appealed that finding, believing the General Court “was wrong in its assessment of the way in which the Council relied on information in the public domain”.
ECJ Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston in September joined those demanding Hamas be dropped from the “terror” list.
The EU could not “rely on facts and evidence found in press articles and information from the internet, rather than in decisions of competent authorities, to support a decision to maintain a listing”, she said.
Given that “some of the reasons advanced could not justify the decision to maintain the listing”, the General Court would be correct to dismiss the EU appeal when it could find no other sufficient reasons for their being listed.
Accordingly, the ECJ “should annul the measures … on procedural grounds”, Sharpston said.
Advocates general of the ECJ are regularly called on to give their view before it makes a final ruling. The court often, but not always, follows them.
The EU maintains an active sanctions policy, targeting individuals, groups and states, including several other Palestinian entities.
Hamas opposed the sanctions from the start, alluding to its democratic mandate and arguing that it has the right to conduct military operations against the Israeli occupation.
Hamas beat out the ruling Fatah party by a landslide during the 2006 legislative elections in the occupied Palestinian territory.
After fighting broke out between the two factions in June 2007, Hamas eventually removed Fatah from the besieged Gaza Strip.
For the last decade, Hamas has been the de facto government of Gaza, while the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority has controlled the West Bank.
In June, Hamas presented a new political document that accepts the formation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, without recognising the statehood of Israel, and says that the conflict in Palestine is not a religious one.
While Hamas’ 1988 founding charter called for the takeover of all of mandate Palestine, including present-day Israel, the new document says it will accept the 1967 borders as the basis for a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of refugees to their homes.
The 1967 borders refer to those that existed before the war in which Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.