swedish flag waving 88.
(photo credit: )
Hamas suffered another blow to its attempts to gain international legitimacy when Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson said Wednesday his country would not issue visas to two Hamas officials.
Sweden has now joined France and Belgium as European Union countries that in the last two months have denied visas to Hamas representatives.
Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council representative Salah Muhammad el-Bardawil and official Muhammad al-Rantissi were invited for a May 16 visit to the southern Swedish city of Malmo, which has the largest Muslim community in Scandinavia.
Sweden, like France and Belgium, are members of the 15-nation Schengen group, which allows freedom of travel to each of these countries to anyone who has obtained a visa from any member country. However, these visas cannot be issued if other Schengen countries object.
Diplomatic sources said that some of the other Schengen countries objected to issuing the visas. Sweden then could have gone ahead and issued visas just for Sweden, but Persson said it was not in Sweden's national interest to do so.
"We have no national interest in inviting them and will therefore follow the guidelines that Hamas leaders cannot have visas to visit Schengen countries," Persson said Wednesday during a visit to Finland.
A senior Israeli diplomatic official welcomed the decision, which he said was "in line with the EU's position of not conducting a political dialogue with Hamas." The official said it was clear the visit by the two Hamas officials was not meant for "tourist" purposes, and that they hoped to use the visit to further Hamas's agenda.
Persson's position was a reversal of the country's stance articulated in recent days by its Foreign Ministry: that the Hamas members could visit, but would not meet any government officials.
Sweden's denial of the visas followed by less than a week Israel's public displeasure at Sweden's decision to drop out of an international military exercise once it found out Israel was participating.
While Jerusalem was pleased at Sweden's position on the Hamas visas, there was still concern that Norway might grant visas to Bardawil and Rantissi, who were invited there in mid-May by a pro-Palestinian NGO.
The issue of these visas is expected to figure prominently when Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere visits Jerusalem on Tuesday.
According to the Norway Post Web site, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has said that no government ministers will meet the two, but that they will be received by administrative representatives from the Foreign Ministry.
Norway is not a member of the EU, but has communicated to Jerusalem that it would abide by the decisions made by the EU regarding Hamas. Norway is, however, one of the Schengen countries.