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EU Court Takes Hamas Off Terror List
From the Wall Street Journal of Wed, 17 Dec 2014 07:59:22 EST
Palestinian Hamas masked gunmen perform military skills during a rally on Dec. 14 to commemorate its 27th anniversary. The EU placed Hamas on its terror list soon after it was established in December 2001.
Palestinian Hamas masked gunmen perform military skills during a rally on Dec. 14 to commemorate its 27th anniversary. The EU placed Hamas on its terror list soon after it was established in December 2001. Associated Press

The European Union’s second-highest court on Wednesday struck down the EU’s decision to place Palestinian group Hamas on its terror list, saying the bloc had taken the decision on inadequate grounds.

The General Court upheld an appeal by Hamas, saying the terror listing decision wasn’t based on evidence that had been properly examined and confirmed by national authorities, but on “factual imputations derived from the press and the Internet.” The court had made a similar ruling for the same reason two months ago on Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers group.

The EU terror list was set up in December 2001 soon after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Soon after, the EU first included Hamas’ military wing on the list then expanded its asset freeze to the whole organization. Hamas appealed its listing in 2010.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the EU to take immediate action to relist Hamas. He said he was “not satisfied” with EU explanations that the decision was a purely technical legal issue.

“The burden of proof lies with the European Union and we expect them to immediately return Hamas to the list that everyone understands it is an inseparable part of. Hamas is a murderous terror organization that notes in its charter that its purpose is to destroy Israel,” he said.

The EU said it was studying its options for “remedial action” to the ruling.

“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,” said a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. “In case of an appeal the restrictive measures remain in place.”

Taking questions from reporters, Maja Kocijancic said the decision was purely a legal ruling and doesn’t change the view of EU member states on Hamas.

EU institutions are studying carefully the ruling and will decide on the options open to them.

—Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief

“The European Union continues to consider Hamas a terrorist organization,” Ms. Kocijancic said.

In its ruling Wednesday, the court said it would temporarily maintain the asset freeze on the group—either for three months or for the time of any appeal to ensure the effectiveness of any future freezing of funds. The court also said its decision does “not imply any substantive assessment of the classification of Hamas as a terrorist group.”

The EU has several options. It could appeal the decision to the European Court of Justice or it could seek to come to the court in the coming weeks with new evidence upholding its case.

The thrust of the court’s ruling on Wednesday wasn’t delivered against the original listing of Hamas but about the weakness of the EU’s case for maintaining Hamas on its updated terror lists from 2010-14. The court said the EU had failed to point to any recent evidence in its relistings of the group.

The court’s decision is the latest blow to the EU’s sanctions regime.

In addition to the Tamil Tigers decision, over the past year, the courts have struck down EU sanctions decisions on a series of Iranian and Syrian companies and people. The Wall Street Journal reported last week the EU asset freezes on some top former Ukrainian officials for alleged corruption was under threat. The EU is also facing challenges from Russian people and firms hit by sanctions.

Ms. Kocijancic said the EU always strives to ensure it has based its sanctions decisions on clear legal evidence. But privately, EU officials have acknowledged the bloc may need a rethink of the entire sanctions regime. One senior EU official said on Friday that the successful challenges to EU sanctions are “a problem that is growing more and more important.”

—Josh Mitnick in Tel Aviv contributed to this item.

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com



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