Hamas is a "major player" in the Middle East," Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Sunday in an interview with Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag.
In the interview, Calmy-Rey spoke of a visit a Hamas delegation had in Bern two weeks ago, during which the Islamist group's members met with top government officials. Calmy-Rey herself met with senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar.
Israel reportedly expressed anger at the visit. Israel ambassador to Bern Ilan Elgar met with Calmy-Rey and stressed the fact that Hamas was a terror group that must be shunned. "We are surprised that Switzerland would allow a delegation, from what most countries categorize as a terror organization, to enter its territory," said a statement by the Israeli Embassy.
"Switzerland is distancing itself from the moderate camp (of nations)."
The Swiss Foreign Ministry said it was "surprised" by the Israeli response, especially since Switzerland makes it a point to stay neutral and act as a mediator between both sides.
Calmy-Rey said her country would continue to engage in a dialogue with all those involved in the Mideast conflict. "Hamas is a major player in the Middle East… and you cannot ignore it if you want to end this decade-long conflict," she told the newspaper.
She also expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.