Widening a 20-month-old campaign against Islamist groups, an Egyptian court on Saturday declared Hamas a terrorist organization.
Hamas denounced the ruling, which appeared a death knell to Egypt’s already-stalled efforts to mediate a long-term truce between Israel and the militant group in the wake of their summer war in the Gaza Strip. In practical terms, however, the ruling is largely symbolic, because Hamas does not have a presence in Egypt.
Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which has been branded a terrorist group by Egyptian authorities. Most of the Brotherhood's senior leadership is in jail, and the movement’s Mohamed Morsi, ousted as Egypt’s president in July 2013, is on trial for a variety of capital crimes, including conspiring with Hamas to destabilize Egypt.
The same Egyptian court that handed down Saturday’s ruling had already designated Hamas’ military wing, the Izzidin al-Qassam Brigade, as a terror group. But Hamas is also a political movement that has achieved electoral success in Gaza – as the Brotherhood did in Egypt.
Egypt has repeatedly accused Hamas of fomenting insurgency in the troubled Sinai Peninsula, which borders the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is the dominant political force. Hamas denies any link with Sinai militants, who have killed hundreds of Egyptian police and soldiers in the last two years.
In a statement, Hamas called Saturday’s court ruling “shocking and dangerous … a big disgrace that is going to tarnish the reputation of Egypt.”
Egypt only rarely opens the Rafah crossing leading to and from Gaza, and has demolished hundreds of homes on the Egyptian side of the city, which is bisected by the frontier, in order to create a buffer zone. In recent months, Egyptian security forces have destroyed dozens of smuggling tunnels running under the Gaza border.
Gaza, home to 1.8 million Palestinians, has been in effect sealed off since 2006, when both Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade.
Times staff writer King reported from Cairo and special correspondent Abukhater from Ramallah, West Bank.
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