EU challenges removal of Hamas from terror blacklist

Lachlan Carmichael

Brussels (AFP) - The EU will appeal a controversial court decision ordering the removal of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas from the bloc's terrorism blacklist, foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday.

Foreign ministers from the 28 European Union member states decided to appeal the decision at a meeting in Brussels focused on the Islamist threat after the Paris attacks this month, she said.

Hamas will remain on the EU's terrorism register pending the result of the appeal by Brussels against the December 17 ruling by the bloc's second highest court, a spokeswoman added.

Hamas, which was first blacklisted in 2001, said the decision to appeal was "immoral".

Israel was enraged by the decision to remove Hamas and the ruling had threatened recent attempts by Brussels to play a bigger role in reviving the moribund Middle East peace process.

Mogherini said EU ministers have "now decided to challenge some of the findings of the court regarding the procedural grounds to list terrorist organisations".

"This ruling was clearly based on procedural grounds and did not imply any assessment by the court of the merits of designating the Hamas as a terrorist organisation."

Last month's ruling by the General Court of the European Union had said that the blacklisting of Hamas was based not on sound legal judgements but on conclusions derived from the media and the Internet.

- Hamas on list since 2001 -

Hamas, which has been in power in the tiny Palestinian territory of Gaza since 2007, had appealed against its inclusion on the blacklist on several grounds.

In Gaza City, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP the decision to appeal "is an immoral step, and reflects the EU's total bias in favour of the Israeli occupation".

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.

Apart from Hamas, the EU has also blacklisted the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which has ties to Hamas.

Foreign Affairs Council spokeswoman Susanne Kiefer confirmed that Hamas will stay on the blacklist during the appeal as the "effects of (the) judgement are suspended."

Hamas' funds in Europe have remained frozen since the December decision.

At the time of the initial ruling, Israeli wePrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it showed Europeans had learned nothing from the Holocaust.

A vote by the European Parliament backing the recognition in principle of a Palestinian state just hours after the Hamas decision, following a series of such votes in European nations, added fuel to the fire.

"The fight against terrorism remains a priority for the European Union," Mogherini said, adding the the "EU is determined to stem the financing of terrorism".

An expert on EU law said Brussels has until February 17 to file its appeal, a process that would then take around 16 months.

An EU source added that Brussels will contest the court decision on the grounds that a number of terror groups habitually claim responsibility for attacks on the Internet, and that it should be possible to use such claims as evidence.

It also rejects the court's request for it to present new evidence that a group remains a terrorist organisation, the source said.

"We disagree. When a group commits a terrorist act, it remains a terrorist group," the source said.

Mogherini said the EU was studying "actions that may be taken" to avoid further legal challenges to its blacklists.

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers were removed from the list in October after an almost identical judgement to the one that removed Hamas.