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Sweden angers Israel with military exercise pullout

Written by: Staff
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STOCKHOLM, Apr 27 (Reuters) Sweden has angered Israel by pulling its air force out of a multinational peace-keeping drill in Italy in mid-May because Israeli flyers would be taking part.

The Israeli embassy said today it was ''surprised'' by the decision, adding that it seemed to rule out any Swedish role in peace-keeping in the Middle East. It also reprimanded Sweden over a visit by Palestinian Islamic party Hamas next month.

''If Sweden cannot take part in a peacekeeping exercise because Israel participates in it, then we can hardly see Sweden taking part in peacemaking in our region,'' said the embassy in Stockholm in a statement. Sweden and Israel's relations are often prickly over the Nordic nation's support for the Palestinians, to which both Sweden and neighbouring Norway have been major aid donors.

Swedish radio reported that six fighter jets had been withdrawn from the Italian exercise in two weeks' time, for which they trained for eight months. Belgian, French, Dutch, British, German, Italian and Norwegian forces are also invited.

''Israeli participation in this kind of peace drill is rather improbable given the political situation in the Middle East,'' the radio quoted a Swedish Foreign Ministry official as saying.

Officials at the ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Israel was also ''puzzled'' by Sweden's decision to allow two members of Hamas' governing council to visit the city of Malmo next month, despite the fact that the European Union, of which Sweden is a member, lists Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson says they will not meet any government officials but could come since the EU bans ''Hamas as an organisation, but not specific individuals''.

The Israeli embassy said the pair were coming ''to garner support for Hamas, that is to say for a terror organization''.

''We do make a connection between these two events and are concerned with Sweden's positions on them,'' it said.

In 2004 the Israeli ambassador to Stockholm vandalised an art exhibit in Sweden showing a Palestinian woman suicide bomber in a pool of fake blood, saying it ''legitimised genocide''.

REUTERS CH PM1902

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