Bulgarian security forces on Friday raided the temporary residences of a visiting Hamas delegation in Sofia, and then expelled the officials from the country, Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported.
The Hamas delegation arrived in Bulgaria on Wednesday to present the “Palestinian narrative and expose the false Israeli narrative on the Palestinians and Hamas.” The visit was the first of its kind by Hamas officials to a member of the EU.
Ma'an quoted a statement released by Hamas' Change and Reform parliamentary list as saying that the Bulgarian move was at least in part prompted by Israeli, US and British pressure.
Hamas quickly slammed Bulgaria for the move, charging the country with bowing to Israeli pressure.
"We condemn this act, which reflects the scale of compliance with Zionist pressures," government spokesman Taher al-Nunu said.
The group added that it demands a formal apology from Bulgaria, and that its officials should have been protected under diplomatic immunity.
Bulgaria later said that it had expelled the Hamas delegation because the terrorists threatened national security, according to Sofia News Agency.
"The four Palestinians expelled from Bulgaria posed a serious threat for national security," Bulgaria's State Agency for National Security said, adding that they had acted in accordance with Article 42 of Bulgaria's Foreigners Act, which allows for the expulsion of foreigners if they pose a threat to public order or national security.
On Thursday, the Bulgarian government flatly rejected reports that meetings between official representatives of the government and Hamas officials took place.
Ismail al-Ashkar, head of the Hamas parliamentary list, led the delegation. Hamas legislators Salah Bardaweel and Mushir al-Masri, who is also a spokesman for the Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip, accompanied him.
Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Vessela Tcherneva told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that “Bulgaria is part of the EU politics as listing Hamas as a terror organization.”
She added that the Hamas representatives are “on a private visitation of an NGO” in Sofia.
Khaled Abu Toameh and Benjamin Weinthal contributed to this report