An Egyptian court Tuesday banned all activities of Hamas in Egypt in a further sign that Cairo's military-backed government aims to squeeze the Palestinian Islamist group ruling neighboring Gaza, regarding it as a security threat.
Hamas was founded as an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned by authorities and subjected to a crackdown on members since the army ousted one of its leaders, Mohamed Morsi, from the presidency last July.
"The court has ordered the banning of Hamas work and activities in Egypt," a judge, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters.
The 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 never recognized Hamas's rule in Gaza after it ousted the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.
But it hosted Hamas's deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuk following the overthrow of former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, and eased passage through its Rafah border crossing with Gaza.
Morsi, elected in June 2012, was seen as further bolstering the group's power in Gaza by mediating a 2012 truce that ended week-long fighting with Israel and lifted some of the blockade restrictions on Gaza.
Since forcing out Morsi, the Egyptian military has destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels under its border with the coastal enclave, alleging they are used to smuggle weapons and fighters who have taken part in attacks on Egyptian security forces.
Hamas denounced the latest move, which it said "serves the (Israeli) occupation."
Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim told Agence France-Presse that the court's decision was "an attempt to besiege the resistance, and serves the Israeli occupation."
"The decision harms the image of Egypt and its role towards the Palestinian cause. It reflects a form of standing against Palestinian resistance (to Israel)," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas.
During Morsi's year in power, Hamas held secretive internal elections in Egypt in 2012. A top Hamas official, Musa Abu Marzouk, lives in Cairo and may now be at risk of arrest in the wake of the court decision.
The case against Hamas was filed by a group of Egyptian lawyers after Morsi's removal last year, asking for the group to be outlawed in Egypt and designated a “terrorist” organization.
Both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas deny such accusations, and the Brotherhood says it remains committed to peaceful activism despite Cairo's security clampdown.
Egypt has arrested almost the entire Brotherhood leadership, and hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators have been killed in street battles.
Amnesty International says more than 1,400 people, mostly supporters of Morsi, have been killed in clashes since his overthrow.
Dozens of alleged Hamas members have been named among scores of defendants on trial with Morsi for allegedly organizing 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 Shia Iran, to destabilize Egypt.
Hamas has denied accusations that it is involved in fighting in the Sinai Peninsula, where attacks on security forces have surged since July.
Al Jazeera and wire services