Israel may replace Mossad agent UK expelled: media

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli diplomat Britain plans to expel over forged British passports used by the suspected killers of a Hamas commander in Dubai is a Mossad agent who Israel may replace, Israeli media said on Wednesday.

Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read news daily, said the intelligence operative being expelled would fly back to Israel after the Jewish Passover holiday ends early next month.

Israel could replace the agent with another as ties between the two countries have not been seriously harmed, the newspaper said. Army Radio carried a similar report.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, declined to comment on the reports.

British Foreign Minister David Miliband told parliament on Tuesday he had asked a member of Israel’s embassy “be withdrawn.”

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied a role in the January killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a military commander from the Palestinian organization Hamas, in a Dubai hotel room.

Dubai’s police chief has said he is almost certain Israeli agents were involved and has accused the intelligence agency Mossad of insulting Dubai.

Authorities in the Gulf emirate have given names for 27 alleged members of a team that killed the Palestinian, and said they used fraudulent British, Irish, French, German and Australian passports to enter and leave Dubai.

Miliband said there were “compelling reasons” to believe Israel was responsible for forging the 12 British passports used and said he had sought assurances from Israel that it would not do so again.

Israel said it regretted Britain’s decision but commentators on Wednesday thought the incident would do no meaningful damage to bilateral ties.

“We attribute great importance to relations with Britain,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement on Tuesday. “We have received no evidence pointing to Israeli involvement in the matter (Mabhouh’s assassination),” he said.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Alison Williams