February 21, 2010 / 11:43 AM / 8 years ago

Britain, Ireland to press Israel over passports

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Israel’s foreign minister will face sharp questions from his British and Irish counterparts in Brussels on Monday over Israel’s alleged use of forged European passports by a team of assassins in Dubai.

Avigdor Lieberman will meet Britain’s David Miliband and Ireland’s Micheal Martin on the sidelines of a European Union foreign ministers’ meeting, with Britain and Ireland wanting answers on what role Israel may have played in the faking of the passports and the killing of a Hamas commander.

Maintaining its policy of ambiguity on sensitive issues such as political assassinations, Israel has refused to comment on the January 19 killing of Palestinian Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a luxury hotel room or the allegations of doctored documents.

Dubai police say they believe Israeli agents carried out the assassination and have released the identities of 11 people traveling on passports from Britain, Ireland, France and Germany who they say were involved.

Several of those people have denied any role or that they have ever visited Dubai, leading investigators to suggest the Israeli overseas spy agency Mossad copied the passports and amended them to allow the assassins to enter the Emirate under false identities and carry out the killing.

Ireland’s Martin said the issue was serious and he would be seeking an explanation when he meets Lieberman.

“I intend ... to underline our deep concern about the fake use of passports in Dubai and to seek reassurance and clarification on this very serious issue,” Martin told the Irish Times on Friday.

COOPERATION URGED

Britain and Ireland called in the Israeli ambassadors last week to discuss the issue, but received little in the way of explanation. The ambassador in London, Ron Prosor, said he was “unable to assist” the British with more information.

Miliband has urged Israel to cooperate as Britain conducts its own investigation into the falsified documents and said he would discuss it with Lieberman on Monday, but it is unclear how much light will be shed. Lieberman said last week there was no reason to believe Mossad was involved.

Britain’s relations with Israel have been strained by the threat of arrest for alleged war crimes faced by senior Israeli officials visiting the UK.

In December, Israel’s former foreign minister Tzipi Livni canceled a trip to London after British media reported that a magistrate had issued a warrant for her arrest on war crimes charges over the war in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009.

A U.N. report found that Israeli troops and Palestinian Hamas militants had committed war crimes in the Gaza war in which up to 1,387 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

Britain’s government has said it is considering curbing courts’ powers to issue such warrants for the arrest of foreign officials.

France and Germany have also asked Israel for an explanation, but the French and German foreign ministers are not scheduled to attend Monday’s foreign ministers’ meeting, and it is not clear whether Lieberman will meet their deputies.

While only four of the EU’s 27 countries are linked to the affair, officials have suggested it may be brought up for discussion at the full foreign ministers’ meeting, which would represent a substantial diplomatic escalation.

European Commission spokesmen last week repeatedly refused to comment on the issue, saying it was a “bilateral” question between Israel and the other countries. Bringing it up at the EU foreign ministers meeting would be inappropriate, they said.

Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton

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