Bulgaria succumbs to Israeli pressure, expels Hamas MPs

Updated 07 December 2014
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Bulgaria succumbs to Israeli pressure, expels Hamas MPs

SOFIA: Bulgaria yesterday expelled a visiting delegation from the Palestinian group Hamas, the head of the organization that invited the lawmakers to the EU-member state told AFP.
Bulgarian security service agents “entered the hotel rooms of the three deputies early yesterday morning and drove them to the airport,” said Mohd Abuasi of the Center for Middle East Studies.
“The agents explained to them that they had to leave because of strong political pressure on Bulgaria from Israel,” he said, adding that they had departed for Istanbul. Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said in televised remarks that the lawmakers had left Bulgaria, without specifying if they had been expelled.
“These people came to Bulgaria with visas, but since their entry into Bulgaria, they have given different reasons for coming compared to what they had said,” he said.
Hamas, which rules in the Palestinian enclave Gaza, denounced the deputies’ expulsion.
Hamas “denounces such behavior which reflects the extent ... of Zionist pressure,” spokesman Taher Al-Nunu said in Gaza City.
The trip comes in the wake of a Feb. 5 announcement by Sofia the Lebanese Hezbollah — like Hamas an enemy of Israel with strong ties to Iran — was behind a July bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists and their local driver.
On Thursday, Sofia distanced itself from the visit, with the Foreign Ministry saying the delegation would not be meeting government representatives.
“Our contacts with the Palestinian Authority are direct and pass through the government in Ramallah and the Palestinian Embassy in Sofia,” the ministry said.
The ministry said a representative had met the Palestinian envoy to Sofia, Ahmed Mohamed Al-Madbuh, and underlined that Bulgaria “maintains no contact with Hamas, which is on the EU’s list of terrorist organizations.”
The three Hamas lawmakers had arrived on Wednesday and were due to participate yesterday in a conference organized by the center.
Previously, a Hamas delegation had visited Switzerland at the invitation of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, despite the protests of Israel.


Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

A Syrian family rides with belongings on a tractor-drawn trailer as they flee from fighting in the southern Syrian province of Daraa on June 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

  • Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week
  • Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally

MOSCOW, BEIRUT: Thousands of people have fled opposition-held areas of southwestern Syria being targeted by regime bombardment, a war monitor said on Thursday, as Damascus steps up attacks on an area near the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 12,500 people had fled opposition-held areas of northeastern Daraa province in the past 48 hours.
The war has pivoted toward the southwest since the Syrian regime and its allies crushed the last remaining pockets of opposition-held territory near Damascus and the city of Homs.
Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally.
A major Syrian regime offensive in the area would risk an escalation of the seven-year-old war. The area is of strategic importance to Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Iranian influence in Syria.
Washington has warned it will take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to violations of the “de-escalation” deal.
Assad said earlier this month the regime, at Russia’s suggestion, was seeking to strike a deal in the southwest similar to agreements that have restored its control of other areas through withdrawals of opposition forces.
But he also said there had been no results yet and blamed “Israeli and American interference.” He said the territory would be recovered by force if necessary. Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week.

Russia ‘skeptical’ over UN report
Meanwhile, the Russian foreign minister on Thursday said he was “skeptical” about a UN report accusing the Syrian regime of committing crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghouta. The report published on Wednesday said forces loyal to the Syrian regime had deliberately starved civilians during the siege between February and April, among other crimes.
“We are in principle very skeptical toward the methods of this sort of work, whether it comes to war crimes or the use of chemical weapons,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. When
questioned by journalists, Lavrov confirmed he had not seen the
report.

He said it was “based on data obtained through social networks, video that was filmed by witnesses,” rather than being put together on the ground.
The five-year siege, on the outskirts of the capital, ended in April when Damascus regained control of the rebel enclave.
As pro-government forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave, they used tactics that were “largely unlawful in nature,” the UN-commissioned report said.
The tactics, it said, “aimed at punishing the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta and forcing the population, collectively, to surrender or starve.”
Russia has been involved in Syria’s civil war since September 2015. Its military support of the regime changed the course of the war, allowing government troops to retake more than half the country from rebels and the Daesh group.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.