Bulgarian officials ejected Hamas lawmakers from the country on Friday, saying they had reason to believe that the group of Palestinians threatened their nation's security.
The Bulgarian State Agency for National Security said four Palestinians had entered the country Wednesday on a private invitation. While they were in Bulgaria, “information was received giving reason to believe that their presence poses a serious threat to national security,” the agency said in a statement Friday.
Bulgarian officials added that the four were expelled as a “preventive” measure under Bulgarian law, not a sanction. The delegation included three lawmakers from Hamas, who were reportedly invited to Bulgaria for a conference.
“Due to the strong pressure by Bulgarian authorities, the three lawmakers decided to leave in order to spare the country an escalating of tensions,” the Associated Press quoted Mohd Abuasi of the Bulgarian Center for Middle East Studies, which said it invited the politicians.
It was not immediately clear who the fourth Palestinian expelled from Bulgaria was. Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the four people were expelled because of their membership in Hamas, though they were not on any list of people banned from entering the European Union, the Novinite news agency reported.
Hamas officials in Gaza condemned the decision and called for a formal apology. The move “reflects the scale of compliance with Zionist pressures,” government spokesman Taher Nunu told the Ma’an News Agency.
Hamas, which holds power in the Gaza Strip, is classified as a terrorist group by the European Union and has lobbied to get off the list. The Bulgaria trip was heralded by another Hamas official as a sign the group would soon lose the label, Ma’an reported, but Bulgarian officials hastened to spell out that the government had not invited Hamas and stressed the point again Friday.
This is the second time this month that Bulgaria has been drawn into Middle East politics: The ejection comes a week and a half after Bulgarian investigators said the Lebanese group Hezbollah was involved in a July bombing in Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver. Bulgaria has been a popular vacation destination for Israelis.
The Lebanese group has denied any role in the July attack. Hezbollah, unlike Hamas, is not labeled as a terror group by the EU; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he hoped the Europeans would realize “the true nature of the Hezbollah.”