Thu, Mar 25, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Britain expels Israeli diplomat

TOKEN GESTURE? A newspaper said the diplomat being sent home was a Mossad agent, who may soon be replaced, as Anglo-Israeli ties had not been seriously harmed

AP AND REUTERS , LONDON, CANBERRA AND JERUSALEM

Britain has taken the extraordinary step of expelling an Israeli diplomat for the first time in more than 20 years, after concluding there was compelling evidence that Israel was responsible for the use of forged British passports in the plot to slay a senior Hamas operative in Dubai.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Tuesday that trust between the two countries had been badly dented, demanded formal assurances it will never happen again and — in an unusual step — issued travel advice to UK citizens warning their identity details may be at risk if they visit Israel.

Miliband told the House of Commons that the expelled diplomat, who has not been named, was removed following an investigation into the use of 12 fake UK passports in the Jan. 20 slaying in Dubai.

“We have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports,” Miliband said.

Britain’s Serious and Organised Crime Agency found the forged British passports were copies of authentic documents handed to Israeli officials for inspection either in Israel or other countries, Miliband said. He said the fakes were high-quality and almost certainly “made by a state intelligence service.”

“The actions in this case are completely unacceptable and they must stop,” Miliband said.

However, Miliband insisted Britain has drawn no conclusions over who is responsible for the killing of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, saying investigation by Dubai authorities was continuing.

Israel may soon replace the expelled diplomat, Israeli media reported yesterday.

Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read news daily, said the diplomat being sent home was actually a Mossad agent, and that he would fly back to Israel after the Passover holiday early next month.

Israel could replace the agent with another, as ties between the two countries have not been seriously harmed, the newspaper said.

Dubai authorities accuse Mossad of carrying out al-Mabhouh’s killing in a hotel room, and have identified at least 26 suspects in an alleged hit squad — members of which used forged European and Australian passports.

Interpol has a wanted list of 27 people in connection with the slaying. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied any involvement in al-Mabhouh’s death.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel had never been supplied with “any proof that Israel was involved in this affair” and that he regretted Britain’s decision.

France and Ireland are also carrying out inquiries into the use of four forged French and six Irish passports.

Dubai police believe three Australian passports and a German one were also used in the killing.

At least 15 of the names used by the suspected killers match those of Israeli citizens who are dual nationals of Western countries. All have denied involvement.

Meanwhile, an Australian investigation into the fake passports will examine the British report that found evidence that Israel was responsible for forging the documents.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday that Miliband offered him the report for use by Australian police in their investigation into forged Australian passports allegedly used by the suspects.

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