BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union said on Monday it would appeal against an EU court ruling that the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas should be removed from the bloc's terrorist list.
The move was criticized by Hamas but welcomed by Israel, which had condemned last month's decision by the bloc's second-highest tribunal that the executive had failed to make its case for blacklisting the movement that controls the Gaza Strip.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini noted in a statement that the General Court made its ruling on procedural grounds. As a result of the appeal, Hamas will remain on the EU's terrorism list and its assets will remain frozen pending a judgment by the Court of Justice, the highest legal authority.
The General Court found that the decision to sanction Hamas, which Israel holds responsible for years of violence against it, was based on media reports, not considered analysis.
The EU will challenge the General Court's finding that the EU must provide evidence that Hamas remains a terrorist group when it updates its terror list as well as the argument that the EU cannot use evidence from the Internet, an EU official said.
Mogherini said the EU was also studying "other appropriate remedial actions" it could take to avoid similar court decisions in future removing groups from the terrorism list.
"The fight against terrorism remains a priority for the European Union. In this sense, the EU is determined to stem the financing of terrorism, for which EU autonomous measures are an essential tool," she said.
"Israel welcomes the EU's decision," an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement. "The EU's decision reflects accurately the position that Hamas was and remains a terror organization."
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the EU appeal "reflects the European bias to the Israeli occupation and it provides the occupation with a legitimacy to kill Palestinian civilians".
However, noting criticism of Israel by European governments, he said Hamas believed the EU executive was out of step with its member states.
Hamas is formally sworn to Israel's destruction and rejects peace talks that the rival Fatah faction of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has conducted with Israel because they do not envisage Palestinian statehood in all of historic Palestine. Hamas has fought several wars with Israel since seizing power from Fatah in Gaza in 2007.
Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Mark Heinrich