(JTA) — Bulgarian security forces ordered a group of Hamas officials visiting Sofia to leave the country.
Ma’an, the Palestinian news agency, on Friday quoted a statement by Hamas which said that delegates from its parliamentary party, Ismail al-Ashqar, Salah al-Bardawil and Mushir al-Masri, left Bulgaria shortly after being told to go.
The three men arrived in Bulgaria on Feb. 13 for a five-day visit meant to show that representatives of Hamas, a designated terrorist group in Bulgaria and the rest of the European Union, were increasingly welcome in Europe, Ma’an reported.
According to the Hamas statement, the men entered Bulgaria “officially” but in statements Thursday, a spokesperson for the Bulgarian government said the men had not been invited to Bulgaria nor met with Bulgarian officials.
Ma’an quoted the Palestine Liberation Organization envoy to Bulgaria as saying that he was informed by the Bulgarian foreign ministry that it "regretted" the presence of the Hamas delegation and made the decision to ask them to leave. Ma’an said the Hamas group was invited by Bulgaria’s Center for Global and Middle East Studies.
The PLO and Hamas are rivals for Palestinian power.
The head of the center, Mohammed Abu Assi, told the Bulgarian news site Dnevnik that the visit was meant to "improve Bulgaria’s image in the Arab world" after the country’s government "made a blunder" by blaming Hezbollah for a 2012 bus bombing which targeted Israeli tourists in Burgas and killed six people. Hezbollah denies the accusations.