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Hamas visit to Sweden condemned

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09:23 CEST+02:00
Sweden's decision to grant an entry visa to a Hamas cabinet minister to attend a conference about exiled Palestinians was "completely in order", according to prime minister Göran Persson. But the move has been criticised by France and Israel, which says it helps to "legitimise terrorism".

"Israel regrets this decision, which to our great regret helps to legitimise a terrorist organisation," foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

The Palestinian refugee affairs minister Atef Adwan has been granted a visa to attend a conference in Malmö, southern Sweden at the weekend although two other Hamas officials have been denied entry.

"The best way to bring about necessary change it to stick to the conditions imposed by the European Union and this visa is not going to help this process," Regev commented.

Göran Persson strongly rejected the comments from the Israeli embassy.

"He's completely wrong and I take exception to that kind of statement."

Persson was aware of the visa application from the Hamas members, but was not given detailed information. That, he said, was entirely appropriate.

"This follows a framework which our officials should deal with," he told Swedish Television.

If the visa matters became a political decision from the prime minister, "then we would be on a slippery slope", he said on Friday morning.

Persson said that it is important to separate Hamas as a terrorist organisation and a visa application from an individual with links to Hamas.

"It does not mean that their visa rights disappear," he said.

Göran Persson had said that Hamas parliamentary group spokesman Salah Muhammad al-Bardawil and Hamas official Mohammad al-Rantissi, who also wanted to visit Sweden, would not be allowed entry after France denied them a visa.

Sweden and France are signatories of the so-called Schengen accords between EU members and others, which grant freedom of travel within their borders to visitors having obtained a visa from any other member country.

But on Wednesday Sweden's general consulate in Jerusalem issued a Schengen visa for the Palestinian refugee minister and a number of other people, Fredrik Floren, an official in the Swedish foreign ministry's Middle East division, told TT.

Floren said that it was normal procedure to withhold a visa if another member country had expressed reservations, as France had done for al-Bardawil and al-Rantissi.

"But in Adwan's case, no Schengen country had any reservations," Floren said.

That is not the view of the Olivier Guerot, spokesman at the French embassy in Stockholm. He told Swedish Radio on Friday morning that if Sweden had informed France of the visa application in the correct way, France would have rejected it.

According to the French, information about a visa application from any of the leading Hamas members should be sent to other Schengen countries via a special communication system between the capitals.

He stressed that no member of the Swedish government would meet with any Hamas representative as Sweden, in line with the rest of the European Union, had no political contacts with the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

The European Union, like Israel and the United States, blacklists Hamas as a terrorist organisation, and have frozen direct aid to the Palestinian Authority since the radical Islamist movement took office last March.

The EU, Russia, United Nations and US, the four powers behind the stalled Middle East peace process, have vowed to boycott Hamas unless it recognises Israel's right to exist, renounces violence and abides by previous peace deals.

TT/AFP/The Local

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