A Cairo court banned Tuesday the Palestinian Hamas movement from operating in Egypt, tightening the noose around the militant rulers of the blockaded Gaza Strip amid a crackdown on Islamists.
The emergency court’s decision to also seize Hamas’s assets, ahead of a final ruling, was in response to a private citizen’s petition to designate it as a terrorist group.
Egypt has accused Hamas of colluding in attacks on its territory in the past few years, and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood movement of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Egypt never recognised Hamas’s rule in Gaza after it forcibly ousted the more moderate Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas from Gaza in 2007.
But it hosted Hamas’s deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuk following Mubarak’s overthrow in February 2011, and eased passage through its Rafah border crossing with Gaza.
Morsi, elected in June 2012, was seen as further bolstering the militant group’s power in Gaza by mediating a 2012 truce ending week-long fighting with Israel and that lifted some of the blockade restrictions on Gaza.
Since ousting him, the military has destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels under its border with the coastal enclave, alleging they were used to smuggle weapons and militants who have taken part in attacks on Egyptian security forces.
Egypt is believed to have also cut off most of its contacts with Hamas, although Abu Marzuk remains in Cairo.
An aide to Abu Marzuk said Hamas had no properties that could be seized in Egypt and Abu Marzuk privately rents his villa in a Cairo suburb.
– Move ‘serves Israeli occupation’ –
Hamas denounced the court ban.
The move was “an attempt to besiege the resistance, and serves the Israeli occupation,” Hamas official Bassem Naim told AFP.
Egypt’s “decision, which puts it on the side of the Zionist occupier, threatens to distance it from its historic role for the Palestinian cause,” he said.
Ezzat al-Rishq, member of Hamas’s political bureau and close to leader in exile Khaled Meshaal, said “this will open the door to new aggression and war against Gaza,” in reference to Israeli military operations against the Strip.
Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian government designated as a terrorist group in December.
The military-installed government accuses the Brotherhood of plotting a spate of militant attacks that have killed scores of soldiers and policemen, charges the Islamist movement denies.
Amnesty International says more than 1,400 people have been killed in street clashes, mostly Islamist supporters of Morsi, since his overthrow.
Dozens of alleged Hamas militants have been named among scores of defendants on trial with Morsi for organising jailbreaks and attacking police stations during the 2011 revolt that toppled Mubarak.
In a separate espionage trial, Morsi and 35 other defendants are accused of conspiring with foreign powers, including Sunni Hamas and Shiite Iran, to destabilise Egypt.
Hamas has denied accusations it is involved in fighting in the Sinai Peninsula, where militant attacks on security forces have surged since July.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]