The European Union’s highest court maintained its position that Hamas is a terrorist organization after defying calls for the Palestinian Islamist group to be removed from Europe’s blacklist.
The European Court of Justice ruling, which was made on Wednesday after an appeal by the EU, overturns a 2014 recommendation from a lower European Court that said Hamas should be removed from the blacklist and sanctions upon the group lifted.
Just last year, ECJ Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston also recommended that Hamas be taken off the blacklist after arguing that the decision to uphold the judgment on Hamas was based on media reports rather than legal arguments. She said that the EU’s stance on keeping Hamas on the blacklist was “not sufficient.”
The ECJ traditionally follows the recommendations of its top legal professionals. However, in a statement issued Wednesday, the ECJ said that an “error of law” had been made and that the general court “should not have annulled Hamas’ retention on the European list of terrorist organizations.”
The case has been referred back to the lower court.
Responding to the verdict, a Hamas leader Yahya Moussa said the decision was “disrespectful and completely incomprehensible.”
“The decision may have come under pressure from the court, but the decision seems not to have been addressed,” he said in a statement.
“The case has been referred to the courts lower than the European Court of Justice, so things are not fixed.”
Moussa also urged the Court to pay attention to the “crimes of the Israeli occupation and its violations.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry told CNN it would study the judgment before offering comment.
The EU froze assets and imposed travel bans on Hamas in 2001 after the al-Qaeda terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Until then, EU nations had no legal definition of terrorism, or specific anti-terrorism legislation, meaning terrorist groups could evade controls by moving around EU countries which had largely abolished internal border controls.
Hamas, which controls Gaza, has fought three wars with Israel since 2007 and launched a series of insurgent attacks.
Founded in 1988, Hamas called for the destruction of the state of Israel and advocated violence to achieve its goal of restoring a Palestinian state.
It changed its charter in May 2017, saying it would accept a state of Israel based on the borders that existed in 1967, before Israel took control of the West Bank, Gaza and all of Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted by criticizing the new charter and symbolically throwing a copy of the policy paper in the trash.
CNN’s Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem contributed to this report.