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Britain, Ireland Press Israel On Dubai Killing

Dubai police chief Dhafi Khalfan holds up identity pictures of 11 suspects in the Hamas commander's killing during a press conference in Dubai on February 15.

Dubai police chief Dhafi Khalfan holds up identity pictures of 11 suspects in the Hamas commander's killing during a press conference in Dubai on February 15.

(RFE/RL) -- The British and Irish governments have summoned Israel's ambassadors in London and Dublin to discuss the apparent use of fake British and Irish passports by the alleged killers of a Hamas commander in the United Arab Emirates.

Israel's ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, was asked to meet with a senior official at the Foreign Office, a day after Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a "full investigation" into the passports row.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said British authorities "hope and expect" that the Israelis "will cooperate fully with the investigation," describing the apparent use of six British passports as an "outrage."

In Dublin, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin called in Israel's envoy, Zion Evrony, for talks, saying he regarded the use of Irish passports as "a very very serious issue."

Martin added that "it puts the security of Irish citizens at risk. We do know that two of the three we've contacted are regular travelers and indeed one would have been travelling this weekend, and that person could very well have been arrested because of the information that has emerged from Dubai."

After the meetings, Prosor said he was "unable to add additional information" to Britain's request, while Evrony said he had nothing useful to tell Ireland.

France said it was also "demanding explanations" from the Israeli Embassy in France on the circumstances of the alleged use of a false French passport by the suspected killers. Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said, "Elements in our possession led us to the conclusion that the passport in question was a fake."

Earlier this week, Dubai police released the names, photos, and passport numbers of 11 people with European passports who allegedly carried out the killing of Mahmud al-Mabhuh in a luxury hotel in Dubai in January. Six British passport holders, three Irish, including a woman, as well as a German, and a French made up the alleged hit team.

At least seven of the people named matched up with real people in Israel who claim they are victims of identity theft.

The men whose names appeared on the British passports have dual British and Israeli citizenship. All deny involvement in the killing. One of them, British-Israeli Stephen Hodes, told Israeli television he now fears for his life.

"I was simply shocked and since I don't know what's happening, I'm in shock. I don't know how they reached me. I don't know how they got my details, who took them," Hodes said.

"I haven't left the country, I think, for two years and I've never been to Dubai ever. I don't know who's behind this. I am just scared. These are major forces."

In Austria, meanwhile, the authorities are investigating whether the killers used Austrian phone numbers or SIM cards to plan their hit. The SIM card, a portable memory chip, holds personal identity information, cell-phone number, phone book, text messages, and other data.

Mossad Suspected

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has ordered an inquiry into the passports, which the country's authorities said were fake. The Serious Organized Crime Agency has confirmed that photographs and signatures on the passports used in Dubai do not match those on passports issued by Britain.

Pictures of the suspects released by Dubai's police.
Irish Foreign Minister Martin said on February 17 that the three Irish passports did have valid numbers, but that they were issued to people with different names than those made public by Dubai. He said the Department of Foreign Affairs was trying to determine whether the passports had been stolen or lost.

With the disclosure by Dubai police of the names and photos of the alleged hit team, fingers have been pointed at Israel's spy agency Mossad and its agents.

A comment from Israel's foreign minister only added to the spy-novel-like mystery surrounding the slaying. In Israel's first official comment on the affair, Avigdor Lieberman told Israeli Army Radio that "Israel never responds, never confirms, and never denies." He added, "I don't know why we are assuming that Israel, or the Mossad, used those passports."

Palestinian Links

Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim told United Arab Emirates newspapers today that the investigation reveals the Mossad's involvement in the killing. He also insisted that the European passports used by the team that allegedly killed Mabhuh were not fakes.

Adding to the intrigue, reports quoted unnamed sources as saying at least two Palestinians were reportedly suspicion of involvement in the killing, including a senior Hamas militant. The paper said the man met a member of the hit team in Dubai, adding that a second Palestinian suspect was linked to the man and lived in the Persian Gulf.

The alleged killers arrived in Dubai on January 19, a day after Mabhuh, who lived in Damascus, Syria, flew in. They left the United Arab Emirates on January 20, the day the militant was found dead.

Hamas, for its part, said it had no doubt who was to blame.

At a rally of some 3,000 supporters in a northern Gaza town on February 17, the group's military wing vowed revenge, stomping on a large Israeli flag and unfurling a huge poster of Mabhuh.

The spokesman of the Islamist group's armed wing, Abu Ubaida, told the crowd that "We came today to tell our enemy who committed this crime that revenge is coming, coming, coming."

Dubai has no formal diplomatic relations with Israel. But the affair could have unwanted diplomatic repercussions for British-Israeli ties.

British Labour Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn has already called for Israel's ambassador to be expelled from Britain if he cannot provide "adequate assurances."

Israeli Mistakes?

The Mossad has been accused of identity theft before. In 2004, New Zealand imposed diplomatic sanctions against Israel and suspended high-level contacts between the two countries after two Israeli citizens were convicted of passport fraud in Auckland. The two were sentenced to six months in prison.

But this would be the first time the Mossad has been suspected of using the identities of its own citizens, and a possible Mossad foul-up could cause political problems for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Lawmaker Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy commander of Israel's Shin Bet internal security service, urged a meeting of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to discuss the matter.

In 1997 in Jordan, during Netanyahu's previous term, two Mossad agents carrying Canadian passports were captured after injecting Khalid Mashaal, currently Hamas's supreme chief, with poison. As the incident began to grow in political significance, Israel sent an antidote that saved Mashaal's life.

compiled from agency reports