Sweden called to explain Hamas visas

Foreign Ministry asks ambassador to ex-plain withdrawal from air force exercise.

swedish rydberg 88 (photo credit: )
swedish rydberg 88
(photo credit: )
The Foreign Ministry on Thursday sharply criticized Sweden's decision to drop out of military exercises including Israel and the possibility that the Scandinavian country will issue visas to members of Hamas. Foreign Ministry Director-General Ron Prosor summoned Swedish Ambassador Robert Rydberg to Jerusalem to express Israel's displeasure after Sweden pulled its eight jet fighters from an international air force exercise once it found out Israel would be participating. Prosor conveyed the message that Sweden would not be looked upon favorably as a participant in the peace process following Stockholm"s indication that Israel was not considered a peace-loving country, according to Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev. "If a country believes that Israel is not good enough to participate in peacekeeping maneuvers, Israel will be entitled to think that that country is not qualified to play a role in the Middle East peace process," Regev said. "This stance could be interpreted as a decision to boycott Israel," he added. "This stance could be interpreted as giving support to those extremists in the international community who want to delegitimize the Jewish state." Sweden has rejected that assertion, explaining the decision to drop out of the exercise as stemming from technical and financial concerns. Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson told reporters in Stockholm Thursday that Sweden withdrew from the May 8-26 Volcanex 2006 exercise in Decimomannu, Italy because his country sees no need to train with the Israeli military since the two countries do not work together in any peacekeeping operations. "We are careful about joining exercises with countries that we won't cooperate with in international missions under UN or EU mandates," he said. "That's our principle ... that's our history. The Israelis have another, more warlike, history, which I find regrettable for that matter." Eliasson sought to downplay the diplomatic spat Thursday, saying it had grown to "larger proportions than it deserves," according to news agency TT. "There is no reason to dramatize this," he said. "It has nothing to do with our relationship to Israel that we want to protect and promote. It is a purely practical judgment based on the exercise needs we have." Israeli diplomatic sources, however, said they were entirely dissatisfied with Sweden's reaction to their concerns and dismissed as "not serious" and "illogical" the argument that the move was made for logistical reasons. "It's ridiculous because they planned to do it and then they pulled out," said one source. Israel was also not pleased with the response it received on the issue of visas for two Hamas representatives of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Salah Muhammad el-Bardawil and Muhammad al-Rantisi, slated to visit Sweden on March 16. A source familiar with Thursday's meeting at the Foreign Ministry said that Rydberg told the Israelis that no visas had yet been granted, but that he couldn't rule out their being granted in the future. Rydberg did stress, however, that the visit was unofficial and would not include any meetings with government representatives. But the Israeli embassy in Sweden criticized the distinction. "The two Hamas members who are coming to Sweden in May are coming in order to garner support for Hamas, that is to say, for a terror organization," an embassy statement said. "They are not innocent bystanders." The expected visit comes on the heels of Paris's decision not to issue visas for Hamas representatives to participate in a conference in France. The EU includes Hamas on its list of terrorist organizations. Prosor pointed out that if Hamas operatives were to come to Malmo, Sweden as scheduled, it would be the first time a member nation of the European Union allowed such a visit. AP contributed to this report.