Bulgaria on Friday expelled three lawmakers of the Palestinian Hamas from the country, saying they represented "a serious threat to national security."
Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that the lawmakers had entered the country with regular visas "issued, however, on different motives from what they have demonstrated here." He said they had left the country Friday morning.
Hours later, Bulgaria's State Agency for National Security issued a statement saying that "the four Palestinians expelled from Bulgaria posed a serious threat for national security."
The agency did not explain who the fourth Palestinian was. It said that it acted on an article in the legislation that allows for foreign nationals to be expelled if they are a threat to public order or national security. It added that this was not a sanction, but rather a "preventive measure."
According to the agency, the four legally arrived in Bulgaria on a private invitation, but during their stay "information was received which gives reasons to believe that their presence poses a serious threat for national security."
In an earlier statement, Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry said this was an "unannounced visit of a group related to Hamas," and added that they "will not be received by any Bulgarian institutions."
"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 director of the Bulgarian Center for Middle East Studies, Mohd Abuasi, said he had invited the three Palestinians to show that Bulgaria "is not a completely pro-Israeli country."
"Due to the strong pressure by Bulgarian authorities, the three lawmakers decided to leave in order to spare the country an escalating of tensions," Abuasi said adding that a conference in which they were to take part was called off, after the visit was cut through.
Hamas overran Gaza in 2007, ousting forces from the Fatah party, led by the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in bloody street battles. Abbas has since ruled only in parts of the West Bank, and Hamas has held sway in Gaza.
The visit of the three Hamas lawmakers comes a week after Bulgarian investigators said they had "well-grounded reasons to suggest" that the militant wing of the Islamist group Hezbollah was behind a bus bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists last year.