Israel: Bildt to scrap scheduled visit

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has cancelled his upcoming visit to Israel, the Israeli foreign ministry announced on Sunday, amid strained relations between the two countries over a controversial newspaper story.

“We were informed this weekend he was cancelling his visit” that had been due to take place in the coming week, ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.

Palmor said the reason given for the cancellation was “a problem of timing.”

However, Israeli media speculated that Bildt, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, cancelled the trip in order to avoid an icy welcome in the Jewish state.

A spokesperson for Bildt, Irena Busic, claimed however that no date had been set for a visit and disputed the assertion that the visit had been “cancelled”.

“Carl Bildt will travel to the Middle East at some point doing the Swedish EU presidency but we have never decided on a date. During a Middle East trip there will also be a visit to Israel,” Busic told the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

Tensions between Israel and Sweden have risen in recent weeks over a report in the popular Aftonbladet tabloid that alleged Israeli soldiers stole and sold body parts of dead Palestinians.

The newspaper later said the story lacked proof.

Israel has demanded that the Swedish government condemn the article that it has labelled an anti-Semitic “blood libel.” Stockholm has refused, saying that doing so would violate the country’s tradition of freedom of speech.

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