Swiss upset Israelis by meeting with Hamas

Swiss upset Israelis by meeting with HamasGeneva - In the latest row between the two states, Israel's ambassador to Switzerland met Thursday with foreign ministry officials in Bern, expressing surprise and upset over a round of talks the Swiss held with representatives of the Hamas movement.

According to Israeli and Swiss officials, the ambassador said Hamas was a terrorist group that should be shunned, while the foreign ministry insisted on maintaining a dialogue with all key players in the Middle East.

"We are surprised that Switzerland has issued entry visas for representatives of an organization that is recognized by most of the international community as a terrorist organization," the Israeli embassy in Bern said in a statement late Wednesday.

According to a media report which the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs would not confirm, hawkish Hamas member Mahmoud Zahar was part of the delegation to Switzerland.

By meeting with Hamas, the Israeli embassy charged, Switzerland was "distancing itself from the moderate camp."

For their part, Swiss officials were somewhat suprised by the Israeli reaction, noting that as a recognized neutral country they routinely acted as "bridges" between warring parties.

An official in Bern said Swiss delegates have for many years been go-betweens during tense times, including in the Middle East and South America. The official noted that these meetings are generally confidential and low-key.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey told local radio that Hamas was an "important player" in the Middle East and one that could not be ignored if a solution to the decades old conflict would be found.

Calmy-Rey was said to have raised her concern about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip with Israeli Ambassador Ilan Elgar during their short meeting.

Switzerland and Israel have had some tense relations recently.

The Alpine nation struck a gas deal with Tehran last year, upsetting the Jewish State, which wants tight sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Earlier this year, Swiss President Hans-Rudolph Mertz met with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a conference in Geneva. Israel subsequently recalled its ambassador for a week in protest.

As the United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, Switzerland represents Washington in Tehran and vice-versa.(dpa)

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