Hamas minister thanks Sweden for visa

The Palestinian Authority's refugee minister Atef Adwan has thanked the Swedish government for allowing him to visit the country, after arriving in Malmö to address a gathering of Palestinian exiles.

Sweden is the first European country to be visited by a representative of the Hamas-led Palestinian administration. The decision to grant him a visa to visit Sweden has led to protests by opponents who point out that Hamas is classed as a terrorist organization by the UN and the EU.

Adwan said he hoped that the Palestinian Authority under Hamas will now establish further contacts in Europe.

“I saw no protests as I was coming here,” he said after arriving at Folkets Park ahead of the conference on Saturday morning.

“I believe that this corresponds to the wishes of the Swedish people. They respect human rights,” he said at a press conference.

Adwan said that he was representing the Palestinian administration, not Hamas.

“With great resolution we will build up the confidence of the Europeans,” he said, although he did not believe that the visit to Sweden was a breakthrough.

“But it serves peace,” he added. “We have many friends in Europe.”

The conference he was visiting was the fourth of its kind for Palestinians exiled in Europe. Its focus is on demands for the rights of Palestinians to return.

“We must not forget that we once had a country. It is important that we get the right to return,” Adwan said.

Before his speech, 700 conference participants chanted “With our souls, we protect you, Palestine.”

In his speech Adwan attacked the blockade started against the Palestinian territories after Hamas’s election victory.

“It was a free and fair election, but we were punished afterwards. It is aggression without parallel. The only crime we committed was to undergo a democratic process,” he said.

According to Adwan the blockade has led to children suffering from lack of food and healthcare.

In a speech shown to the conference hall, Sweden was also thanked by Ismail Hania, Palestinian Prime Minister, for making Adwan’s visit possible. He also called the blockade unjust and an attempt to force the Palestinians to their knees.

Adwan described Israel as an enemy that wants everything without giving anything. Asked whether the two sides can accept each other, he replied:

“There is maybe room for a Jewish state, but then there should also be a state for us.”

The decision to give the Hamas representative a visa to Sweden has been criticized from a number of directions. Leading the protests was Israel, which said it amounted to “legitimizing representatives for a terror organization.”

The country lodged a formal protest with foreign minister Jan Eliasson