Middle east: Mossad's bungle leads to Israel losing captured prize

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The Independent Online
Last Thursday, two men on Canadian passports tried to assassinate a Hamas leader in Jordan. King Hussein believes that the attackers belong to Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

Patrick Cockburn reports that the failed assassination appears to have led directly to the release of Sheikh Yassin.

It all began at 7.15am on 25 September in the Hila El-Ali district of Amman, the Jordanian capital, when Khalid Meshal, the head of the political bureau of Hamas, was entering a building which contains his office. He was accompanied by three of his seven children and his bodyguards.

In the entrance, two men approached him and one stepped forward swiftly and touched him with what is described as "an apparatus" on the chest. Mr Meshal screamed with pain and fell to the ground. His bodyguards attacked the two men, smashing the glasses of one of them. But they were unable to prevent them driving away in a Hyundai, said to contain three other men.

The bodyguards pursued and more than a mile away came across the assailants, apparently changing cars. There was a fight in which one of the men who attacked Mr Meshal was hurt. Surprisingly no shots were fired by either side. The Jordanian police arrested all involved in the fracas.

In the police station it emerged that the two men under arrest carried Canadian passports and has been staying in the Intercontinental, a luxury hotel in the centre of Amman. Two other Canadians who were staying with them did not return to the hotel, abandoning their luggage, and may have been the other men in the car. When Canadian embassy officials visited the two prisoners in jail they said they wanted no diplomatic assistance. The names of the Canadians have not been released.

Meanwhile, Mr Meshal had been removed to hospital. Dr Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the Hamas leader in Gaza, told The Independent that at the time of the attack: "Meshal felt noises in his ears, then after two hours drowsiness, nausea and vomiting. In hospital he began to feel respiratory failure which turned to suffocation so he had to be put on a respirator. We believe they wanted to kill him, but make it look as if he died naturally."

Earlier this week, a furious King Hussein of Jordan is reported to have telephoned Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, demanding to know what kind of nerve gas was used by Israeli agents on Mr Meshal so the correct antidote could be administered by Jordanian doctors.

Israel has neither admitted nor denied being behind the assassination bid, but Israeli radio reports that last Sunday Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan visited Israel to arrange an exchange of Sheikh Yassin for the two captured Mossad agents.

On Monday, Dr Rantisi told The Independent that Hamas viewed the attack on Mr Meshal, if it was confirmed that it was carried out by Israeli agents, as it did the assassination of Yahyah Ayyash. Both actions called for revenge by Hamas against Israel. In retaliation for the killing of Ayyash four suicide bombers killed 58 people. By releasing Sheikh Yassin, Israel will hope to pacify King Hussein, prevent more Hamas bombs and avert the danger of Sheikh Yassin dying in Israeli custody. Hamas said he had gone on hunger strike some days ago.

Denying a deal with Israel, Samir Mutawae, the Jordanian information minister, said that the two Canadians would be put on trial. If Mossad was involved then the attempted assassination of Mr Meshal will be most disastrous incident in its history. Given that the Prime Minister would probably have authorised such an operation there will also be damage to Mr Netanyahu's reputation.