The high-ranking representatives of the EU-terror-listed Islamist organistion, who were in the country on a private visit, were expelled on grounds of posing a risk to the national security.
By Tzvetina Borisova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 20/02/13
Hamas supporters take part in a rally celebrating the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist movement in the West Bank city of Qalqilya, on December 15th 2012. The organisation is listed as a terrorist group by the EU. [AFP]
A visit of three lawmakers from the Change and Reform party, the political wing of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, to Bulgaria, was cut short by government officials.
The three lawmakers were expelled from the country on Febuary 15th, two days after entering.
Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that the motives the three Hamas officials had cited in their visa application were different from what they had demonstrated during their stay, namely what he described as "political affiliation."
In an official statement, Bulgaria's State Agency for National Security said the expulsions were of preventive nature. "Information was obtained during their [the Palestinian lawmakers'] stay in Bulgaria giving grounds to believe that the foreigners pose a serious threat to the national security."
The group had arrived on a private visit following invitation from the Sofia-based Centre for Middle East Studies, whose director Mohd Abuasi said the visit was planned as a "component of the balance of Bulgaria's foreign policy in the Middle East."
That the Hamas representatives' visit came just days after Bulgaria officially announced its "grounded hypothesis" that members of Lebanese militant group Hezbullah were behind a terror attack on a group of Israeli tourists in one of Bulgaria's coastal Black Sea cities last July prompted some analysts to connect the two events.
Hamas is classified as a terrorist organisation in the EU. On its website, the Change and Reform party described the visit as the first of its kind in the bloc since 2003, when Hamas was added to the terror list.
"As a terrorist organisation, they should have never been invited in the first place," Hillel Frisch, an expert on Palestinian and Islamic politics, institutions and military strategies, told SETimes. "Their organisation has been involved in both suicide attacks or through missile attacks launched on civilian population centres," he added.
"I definitely think [the Bulgarian authorities'] decision [to expel the three Hamas members] was warranted," he said.
Bulgarian Middle East expert Professor Vladimir Chukov told SETimes that Bulgarian authorities failed to assess the actual risk of this visit properly.
"I believe we are talking here about an obvious case of weak co-ordination between institutions ... The Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, where they obtained their visas, should have informed the foreign ministry about the visa applications by the three very senior Hamas officials. In its turn, the ministry had to judge whether they would be sightseeing here, or they will be up to something else," he said.
"I have no doubt there is a connection between Hezbullah being held responsible for the Burgas bombing and the expulsion of the three Hamas operatives," Daniel Pipes, founder and director of think tank Middle East Forum, told SETimes.
"These two organisations have historically worked together and with the regime in Tehran," he added.