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Hamas says delegation ordered to leave Bulgaria

Feb. 15, 2013 10:12 A.M. (Updated: Feb. 16, 2013 11:39 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- Bulgarian security forces on Friday raided the hotel rooms of a visiting Hamas delegation, ordering them to leave the country, a party statement said.

The visit was lauded by Hamas as a sign the party is being increasingly welcomed across Europe, while prompting clarifications from Bulgaria that the government had not invited the representatives.

Three officials from Hamas' parliamentary party the Change and Reform Bloc -- Ismail al-Ashqar, Salah al-Bardawil and Mushir al-Masri -- arrived in Bulgaria on Wednesday.

The bloc said in a statement Friday that Bulgarian security ordered them to leave the country before the end of the five-day visit. They said Israeli pressure was behind the move, and noted that they entered the country officially.

The Hamas delegation left Bulgaria shortly after.

The PLO ambassador in Bulgaria told Ma'an he was informed by the Bulgarian foreign ministry that they "regret" the presence of the Hamas delegation and took a decision to ask them to leave.

Amb. Ahmed Madbouh said the foreign ministry denied it had raided the hotel, but rather had a "calm discussion" with the Hamas delegates.

'Welcomed'

The visit came a week after Bulgaria accused Hezbollah of carrying out a bus bombing last July which killed Israeli tourists in the Black Sea city of Burgas, prompting the the European Union to consider adding the Lebanese movement to its list of terrorist organizations.

Hezbollah denies the accusations.

Hamas official Ahmad Yousef said Friday that his party's visit to Bulgaria could presage moving Hamas off the EU terrorism list.

Saying he had specific information, which he could not yet reveal, Yousef told Ma'an that EU countries had "no reservations against removing Hamas from the terrorism list," with the exception of Germany and the Czech Republic.

"There is more than one country in Europe that welcomes Hamas MPs, and this is a good sign," he said.

However, the Bulgarian government immediately moved to clarify that the delegates were not officially invited, and would not meet with government representatives, according to the Sofia news agency.

A Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post that while Bulgaria is part of the EU policy designating Hamas as a terror group, the visiting officials are not subject to any travel bans.

The group were invited by Bulgaria's Center for Global and Middle East Studies.

Head of the center Mohammed Abu Assi told Bulgarian news site Dnevnik.bg that the visit aims to "improve Bulgaria's image in the Arab world" after the country's government "made a blunder" by blaming Hezbollah for the 2012 bus bombing.
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