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Fatah, Hamas slam expulsion of Bulgaria delegation

Feb. 16, 2013 3:59 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 17, 2013 8:32 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hamas and Fatah officials on Saturday criticized Bulgaria's decision to expel a Hamas delegation visiting the country, demanding an apology from the East European country.

Bulgarian security forces on Friday raided the hotel rooms of a visiting Hamas delegation, ordering them to leave the country, the Islamist group said.

Hamas leader Salah al-Bardawil said the decision by Bulgaria violates diplomatic norms and should be condemned by all Arab and Palestinian leaders.

"We entered the country with an official visa, so we should have left willingly, rather than being expelled. The delegates represent the Palestinian people, not Hamas, though they are affiliated to Hamas," al-Bardawil told a press conference on Saturday.

The delegation was invited by Bulgaria's Center for Middle East Studies, the Hamas official said, adding that the group's expulsion shows how the EU is subservient to Israel.

Sufian Abu Zaida, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council called the expulsion of the Hamas delegation an assault on Palestinian dignity.

"This was humiliating to all Palestinians, and should be condemned at all levels, both official and popular," he told Ma'an.

"What happened reiterates that disagreement between the Palestinians must come to an end as it is a curse chasing us everywhere," he added.

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.

Hamas said the delegates' hotel rooms were raided early Friday by Bulgarian security forces, who ordered them to leave the country.

Bulgaria's National Security Service said Friday's move was a "preventive measure".

"During their stay in Bulgaria we obtained information that their presence was creating a serious threat to national security," it said in a statement, without elaborating.

The European Union, like the United States, has branded Hamas a terrorist group for suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis since the mid-1990s.

Hamas won the last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, ending the dominance of Fatah.
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