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Egypt court bans Hamas armed wing

Jan. 31, 2015 5:18 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 1, 2015 10:07 P.M.)
CAIRO (AFP) -- An Egyptian court on Saturday banned the armed wing of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, declaring it a "terrorist" group.

Hamas denounced the ruling against the al-Qassam Brigades as "a dangerous political decision that serves the interests of the occupier," referring to Israel.

Since Egypt's military ousted democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the authorities have accused Hamas of aiding militants who have waged a string of deadly attacks on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula. Hamas has categorically denied the accusations.

Saturday's court verdict followed a complaint from a lawyer accusing the Hamas armed wing of direct involvement in "terrorist operations" in the Sinai, which borders Gaza, a court official said.

The lawyer also accused the movement of using tunnels under the frontier between Egypt and Gaza to smuggle arms used in attacks against the police and army, the official said.

Egypt's military says it has destroyed more than 1,600 tunnels since Morsi's ouster.

In the ruling, the judge said that "the documents submitted by the plaintiff to the court showed that the organization has conducted attacks ... that targeted the military and the Egyptian police and facilities."

There was no immediate response to the court ruling from the al-Qassam Brigades itself, but a Hamas spokesman in Gaza said the armed wing should not be dragged into "Egypt's internal affairs."

In early January, Egypt began work on doubling the width of a buffer zone along the border with Gaza to prevent militants infiltrating from the enclave.

The buffer zone was created following a suicide bombing on Oct. 24 last year that killed 30 Egyptian soldiers and wounded scores.

After that incident, Cairo declared a three-month state of emergency in parts of North Sinai, a remote but strategic region bordering Israel and Gaza.

Last week the decree was extended by three months.

On Thursday militant attacks, including a car bombing, claimed by an Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, left at least 30 people dead in North Sinai.

The following day a 50-year-old Egyptian interior ministry employee was shot dead in his home in the provincial capital el-Arish, officials said.

Militants in the Sinai have killed scores of policemen and soldiers since Morsi's overthrow, vowing revenge against a crackdown on his supporters that has killed more than 1,400 people.

Egypt blames Hamas, which is close to Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, of supporting the blacklisted Egyptian movement.

Last March, Cairo banned and outlawed Hamas operations on Egyptian soil, ordering the freezing of its assets.

Despite worsening relations between Hamas and the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief and architect of Morsi's fall, Cairo continues to play its traditional role of mediator between Hamas and Israel, including during last summer's war in Gaza.
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