Britain kicks out Israeli diplomat in passport row

Britain kicks out Israeli diplomat in passport row
3/23/2010 10:24:01 AM
AFP/Hamas/File – Mahmud al-Mabhuh, a founder of the military wing of the Hamas movement, was found dead in his Dubai hotel … Video Link Mideast Video:Houses a key part of dispute over east Jerusalem AP Video Link Mideast Video:Britain expels Israeli diplomat Reuters Video Link Mideast Video:Mt. Lebanon Supports Teen Dating Violence Bill KDKA Pittsburgh Tue Mar 23, 12:41 pm ET

LONDON – Britain announced Tuesday it was kicking out an Israeli diplomat over the use of fake British passports in the killing of a Hamas chief in Dubai, in a sharp escalation of tension triggered by the murder.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said there were "compelling reasons" suggesting that Israel was to blame for the forgeries used by team which killed Mahmud al-Mabhuh in January.

"I've asked that a member of the embassy of Israel be withdrawn from the UK as a result of this affair and this is taking place," he told lawmakers in a statement.

"There are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports", which were forged after being taken temporarily from uninvolved Britons as they passed through border points.

The announcement came after Israel's ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, went for talks at the Foreign Office on Monday.

Prosor was briefed on the results of an investigation into the passport cloning which Prime Minister Gordon Brown had ordered in February and was led by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Miliband last month urged Israel to give its "full cooperation" to an international probe into the use of fake passports by the killers of Mahmud al-Mabhuh, a founder of Hamas' armed wing, on January 20.

The Jewish state has said there is no proof of widespread allegations that its spy agency, Mossad, was behind the murder, and media reports suggest Britain will not contest this.

Britain had previously called in the Israeli ambassador to discuss the issue after Dubai police in February released photos and names of European passport holders alleged to have been members of the hit squad.

They say the suspects used the identities of 12 people from Britain, as well as people from Ireland, France, Australia and Germany.

International police agency Interpol has issued arrest notices for 27 suspects wanted by Dubai in connection with the killing.

The British announcement came as a French prosecutor announced an investigation after four fake French passports were used by suspects involved in the killing.

French authorities opened a preliminary investigation on March 12 to look into allegations of falsifying and making use of fake documents, the Paris prosecutor said.

Relations between Britain and Israel were strained before the Hamas killing passport row, notably after a London court issued an arrest warrant for former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

Livni reportedly cancelled a trip to Britain in December for fear of being arrested under the warrant, issued over her role in Israel's 22-day war against the Hamas-rule Gaza Strip launched at the end of 2008.

The affair acutely embarrassed the British government and Brown pledged to change the law that allows judges to consider a case for an arrest warrant for alleged war crimes suspects brought by any individual.

The deterioration of diplomatic relations between Britain and Israel comes as historically strong US-Israeli ties are under strain over Tel Aviv's plans to build new settlements.

Israel's announcement on March 9 of 1,600 new homes in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state, triggered a rare condemnation from the United States.

Britain has condemned the Israeli settlement plan, although there is no suggestion that this is related to the current diplomatic spat.