A damaged bus is transported out of Burgas airport, Bulgaria, a day after a deadly suicide attack on a bus full of Israeli vacationers, Thursday, July 19, 2012. (Photo: AP)
Bulgaria on Friday expelled a visiting delegation from the Palestinian group Hamas, the head of the organisation that invited the lawmakers to the EU-member state told AFP.
Bulgarian security service agents "entered the hotel rooms of the three deputies early on Friday morning and drove them to the airport," said Mohd Abuasi of the Centre for Middle East Studies. He said they then left for Istanbul. The European Union considers Hamas a terror group.
Bulgaria on Thursday distanced itself from a Hamas parliamentary delegation's visit to the European Union member state, saying it would not meet with government officials.
One of the three delegates said Wednesday the delegation had arrived in Bulgaria and would be meeting with state officials, ruling party lawmakers and the opposition "to discuss cooperation and explain the Palestinian cause."
But Bulgaria's foreign ministry said in a statement that the delegation, invited by a non-governmental organisation, would not be meeting with government representatives.
"Our contacts with the Palestinian Authority are direct and pass through the government in Ramallah and the Palestinian embassy in Sofia," the ministry said.
The ministry said a representative had met with the Palestinian envoy to Sofia, Ahmed Mohamed al-Madbuh, and underlined that Bulgaria "maintains no contact with Hamas, which is on the EU's list of terrorist organisations."
The head of the group that invited them to a conference, Mohd Abuasi of the Centre for Middle East Studies, said it seemed Bulgarian authorities were not opposed to the visit because visas were granted to the three members of the delegation.
Members of the militant group last year visited non EU-member Switzerland to attend a hearing by a committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, drawing harsh criticism from Israel, with then-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman calling the IPU invite "an example of international hypocrisy".
The Hamas trip comes in the wake of a February 5 announcement by Sofia that the Lebanese Hezbollah -- like Hamas an enemy of Israel with strong ties to Iran -- was behind a July bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists and their local driver.