Ireland tells Israel to withdraw staffer over Dubai hit
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's government called on Israel on Tuesday to withdraw a staffer at its Dublin embassy over the use of fake passports in the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai in January.
Dubai has accused Israel of being behind the killing of the Palestinian and has provided the names of over two dozen alleged members of a team it says tracked and killed him, using fraudulent British, Irish, French, German and Australian passports.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied any role in the assassination, prompting international indignation.
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said an investigation had shown that the eight Irish passports used by suspects in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh were forgeries.
Australia and Britain have also ordered the expulsion of Israeli diplomats over fake passports used by the killers to travel to and from Dubai.
German prosecutors said at the weekend they were seeking the extradition of a suspected Israeli agent who was arrested in Poland in early June for passport fraud in the same case.
"The misuse of Irish passports by a state with which Ireland enjoys friendly, if sometimes frank, bilateral relations is clearly unacceptable and requires a firm response," Martin said in a statement.
He said he would not reveal the name or function of the official concerned, in accordance with diplomatic practice.
"I want to state clearly that the official concerned is not accused or suspected of any particular wrongdoing," he said.
"In being obliged to leave their post prematurely, the official concerned is a victim of the actions of the state they represent."
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel regretted the decision of the Irish government, "which does not conform to the importance that we attribute to our relationship."
"PRODUCTIVE BILATERAL RELATIONS"
Martin said he wanted Ireland and Israel to enjoy "productive bilateral relations" even though Dublin disagreed with certain Israeli government policies.
Ireland ordered investigations into the matter after Dubai officials said Irish passports had been used in the hit.
Martin said they discovered no additional evidence linking the Irish passports to Israel.
"The fact that the forged Irish passports were used by members of the same group who carried the forged British and Australian passports, leads us to the inescapable conclusion that an Israeli government agency was responsible for the misuse and, most likely, the manufacture of the forged Irish passports associated with the murder of Mr. Mabhouh," he said.
Martin added that the level of sophistication required in the manufacture of the forged passports pointed to the involvement of a foreign state agency or a very well resourced criminal organization with access to the details of a significant number of Irish passports.
Those responsible for the forgery of the Irish passports sought to replicate potential valid Irish passport information, with six of the eight fake passports using the numbers of existing Irish passport holders, Martin said.
The other two Irish passports used numbers conforming to Irish passport number format, although valid passports carrying these numbers were never actually issued, he said.
Mabhouh, born in the Gaza Strip, had lived in Syria since 1989 and Israeli and Palestinian sources have said he played a key role in smuggling Iranian-funded arms to militants in Gaza.
(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Noah Barkin)
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