Inquiry into Hamas killing ups pressure on Israel

Israel came under fresh diplomatic pressure on Thursday as Australia became the latest country seeking answers over the use of Western passports in the Dubai killing of a top Hamas militant.

Australia summoned the Israeli ambassador to discuss the latest development in the investigation into the killing, which Dubai’s police chief has said was most likely carried out by Mossad agents.

Australia “will not be silent on the matter”, said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd after three Australian passport-holders were named among 15 new suspects linked to last month’s Cold War-style killing of Mahmud al-Mabhuh.

“If Australian passports are being used or forged by any state, let alone for the purpose of assassination, this is of the deepest concern and we are getting to the bottom of this now,” Rudd told public broadcaster ABC.

“We will not leave a single stone unturned.”

A statement on Monday from Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said there was no evidence to link Israel to the killing of Mahmud al-Mabhuh, who was found dead at a luxury Dubai hotel on January 20.

But the country’s envoys have already been called in over the affair by four European countries — Britain, France, Germany and Ireland — because of the use of such passports seemingly issued by these countries.

In many cases, the documents appeared either to have been faked or obtained illegally.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who summoned Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem for an explanation on Thursday, said initial investigations showed the Australian passports were probably “duplicated or altered”.

They had not yet reached any conclusions, Smith added.

“But I made it crystal clear to the ambassador that if the results of that investigation cause us to come to the conclusion that the abuse of Australian passports was in any way sponsored or condoned by Israeli officials, then Australia would not regard that as the act of a friend.”

The other 15 new suspects being sought are six British, three French and three Irish passport-holders, Dubai investigators said in a statement.

Wednesday’s announcement by Dubai police brought the total number of people being sought to 26. All had used Western passports.

Five of the 15 new suspects were women and 14 had used credit cards, issued by META Bank in the United States, to book hotel rooms and pay for air travel, Dubai police said.

The new suspects had travelled to Dubai from six different European cities and Hong Kong.

On Wednesday, Britain and Ireland were contacting the holders of passports named by Dubai police.

Media reports in Israel said as many as 10 of the new suspects had used the identities of Israelis holding double nationality. Six Israelis with dual British citizenship had already been identified.

Dubai police initially released the names and photos of 11 suspects who had entered the United Arab Emirates on European passports: six from Britain, three from Ireland, one from Germany and one from France.

The emirate’s police chief, Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan, has already said he is “99, if not 100%” sure that Israeli spy agency Mossad was behind Mabhuh’s death.

On Saturday he said that Dubai had evidence, including wiretaps, of the agency’s role.

He also said last week that some of Mabhuh’s killers used diplomatic passports, which appeared to have been falsified or stolen, belonging to ordinary citizens shocked to learn of their being linked to the case

“Friendly nations who have been assisting in this investigation have indicated to the police in Dubai that the passports were issued in an illegal and fraudulent manner,” said Wednesday’s statement.

Mabhuh, who masterminded a number of attacks on Israeli targets, was electrocuted and strangled to death, according to his brother.

Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, has reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorised the mission and met members of the hit squad shortly before their departure. — AFP

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