Hamas has condemned the African Union (AU)'s decision to grant Israel observer status, calling the move "shocking and reprehensible."
In a statement released on Saturday, Hamas criticised the decision the AU took last week following almost two decades of Israel's attempts to gain observer membership after the organisation's predecessor – the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) – was disbanded in 2002.
According to Hamas, the decision "enhances the legitimacy of the occupation entity on our land and gives it more opportunities to continue its plans to erase Palestinian rights and continue its brutal crimes against the Palestinian people."
The group also noted that the move is counterproductive to the historic anti-colonial cause of the AU's member states "that have suffered for centuries from the yoke of colonialism and racism and suffered to get rid of them."
Hamas insisted that it continues to see the countries of the African continent as "a natural extension of our just struggle for freedom and independence, and we look forward to their strong and continuous support."
The movement concluded the statement by demanding "the immediate expulsion of this occupation entity from the Union and the imposition of deterrent penalties on it."
Hamas vowed to continue that demand until Tel Aviv "responds to our aspirations as a people under occupation by establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and the return to our homes from which we were expelled by brutal force."
The AU's decision to make Israel an observing member surprised many, as the regional organisation has long shown public support for the Palestinian cause and has condemned Israel's assaults on Gaza and its ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory.
The move is, however, seen as a path to enhanced normalisation and improved ties between Israel and African states. Despite having full diplomatic relations with most of the countries in the continent, Tel Aviv only has embassies in around a dozen of them.
In recent years, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a drive to improve ties and relations with African states, culminating in the AU's latest decision.