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Norway says Hamas members have applied for visas

By Staff
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OSLO, May 4 (Reuters) Two members of the Palestinian Authority's ruling Hamas party have applied for visas to visit Norway, the Norwegian foreign ministry said today, one day after France and Sweden ruled out entry to Hamas lawmakers.

Norway has known for weeks that Hamas members would apply for visas and that its response will be closely watched by the United States, the European Union and Israel, who have all branded Hamas a terrorist organisation and have been seeking to isolate the militant Islamist group.

One of the two Palestinians who has applied for a visa was expected, said a Norwegian foreign ministry spokesman who declined to identify the Hamas members.

''It's not the same people as expected,'' Frode Andersen said.

''It's one of them as before and another name.'' Norway is a not a member of the 25-nation European Union and it has said it will treat the Hamas members' visa applications like any other. It has previously said that if the Hamas members were allowed into the country they would be met by a civil servant, but not an elected member of Norway's government.

France and Sweden both turned down visa applications from Hamas members on Wednesday.

The United States, the European Union and Israel have been increasing pressure on Hamas in an effort to persuade the militant group to recognise Israel and renounce violence.

Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction and has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israel since the start of a Palestinian uprising, has largely abided by a year-long ceasefire.

But it has refused to abandon policies that put it on the US and EU list of terrorist organisations.

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson said on Wednesday that Hamas lawmaker Salah al-Bardaweel was not welcome. France also turned away Bardaweel and denied a visa to Mohammad al-Rantissi.

Bardaweel said on Monday he would apply to other countries to join a delegation of four Palestinians from other parties on a tour of Europe, including Sweden's neighbour Norway.

A group called the Palestinian Committee of Norway invited the two Hamas members. It has told Reuters it is confident the they will be given visas in time for their proposed May 15 trip.

REUTERS PM PC2153

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