Members of a Hamas delegation that had arrived in the country on Feb. 13 were ordered by Bulgarian authorities today to leave. Hamas, which the European Union considers a terrorist organization, claimed that the order was the result of Israeli pressure. “We condemn this act, which reflects the scale of compliance with Zionist pressures,” a Hamas spokesman said.
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) ambassador to Bulgaria, Ahmed Madbouh, denied that the delegation’s hotel rooms had been raided and said Bulgarian authorities and the Hamas officials had engaged in a “calm discussion.”
According to a member of the Center for Middle East Studies, which had invited the Hamas delegation, Bulgarian authorities “drove” the Hamas members to the airport, where they then took a plane to Istanbul, Turkey.
The Hamas delegation, which was headed by Ismail al Ashqar, who has previously called for the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden, had been issued visas, but “on different motives from what they have demonstrated here,” Bulgaria’s Interior Minister said. When asked why the Hamas officials were granted visas despite being recognized by the EU as a terror organization, Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister said that “[t]here are two lines of EU sanctions against Hamas – financial transactions and official contacts. We had no grounds to deny visas to those individuals.”
When the Hamas delegation arrived in Sofia on Wednesday, al Ashqar claimed that it would be meeting with Bulgarian officials as well as members of Bulgaria’s leading political party and the opposition party. However, Bulgarian officials quickly distanced themselves from such claims.
According to Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister, the expulsion of the Hamas members was the result of a decision by Bulgaria’s State Agency for National Security (DANS). DANS said that “information was received which gives reasons to believe that their presence poses a serious threat for national security.”