Bulgaria Says Hamas Delegation Not Official Guests

YERUSHALAYIM - Bulgaria unequivocally denied reports of plans to receive a delegation from Hamas, The Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday.

Vessela Tcherneva, the spokeswoman for the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, said, “The news about an official visit of Hamas is wrong and false” and that “no one has invited Hamas from the side of the government.”

She added that the Hamas representatives are “on a private visitation of an NGO” in Sofia.

A spokeswoman for Israel’s ambassador to Bulgaria, Shaul Kamisa Raz, noted that Hamas, unlike Hizbullah, is listed by the EU as a terrorist organization. He said, “We are looking into this recent visit. In order to understand the exact circumstances under which this visit took place, we prefer not to make any further comments at this point.”

Ismail al-Ashkar, head of the Hamas parliamentary list Change and Reform, led the delegation, which also included Hamas legislators Salah Bardaweel and Mushir al-Masri. The three Hamas officials arrived in Bulgaria at the invitation of the Center for International and Middle East Studies, sources said.

Austrian and Arab media reports say the Hamas visit to Bulgaria is the first EU visit by Hamas to a European Union country since the EU designated the group a terrorist entity in 2003. Switzerland, a non-EU country, permits Hamas representatives to travel to the central European country.