Israeli diplomat expelled in fake passports row

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The Independent Online

Britain has expelled an Israeli diplomat over the use of fake UK passports by suspected Mossad agents in the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai, it was announced today.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said an investigation had discovered "compelling" evidence that Tel Aviv's secret service was responsible for cloning the ID documents.



He told MPs it was "intolerable" for a foreign country to behave in such a way, and the fact that Israel was a close ally added "insult to injury".



"Given that this was a very sophisticated operation, in which high-quality forgeries were made, the Government judges it is highly likely that the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service.



"Taking this together with other inquiries, and the link with Israel established by Soca (the Serious and Organised Crime Agency), we have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports.



"The Government takes this matter extremely seriously. Such misuse of British passports is intolerable."



He added: "I have asked that a member of the embassy of Israel be withdrawn, and this is taking place."













Mr Miliband said the misuse of passports presented a "hazard for the safety of British nationals in the region".

"It also represents a profound disregard for the sovereignty of the United Kingdom," he said. "The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury.



"No country or government could stand by in such a situation."



Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the founder of Hamas's military wing, was assassinated in his luxury hotel room in Dubai on January 19 by a team of killers wearing fake beards, wigs and other disguises.



Dubai officials said they were "99% certain" that Mossad agents were behind the murder but Israel has refused to confirm or deny the link.



At the time Mr Miliband branded the abuse of British passports "outrageous" and demanded that Tel Aviv co-operate fully with the UK's investigation.



Israel's ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, was summoned to the Foreign Office last month to discuss the situation, but he flatly denied there was any "additional information" to give.



Investigators from Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) looked into the use of cloned passports of innocent British citizens in the attack.



Mr Miliband said 11 of the 12 had now been given biometric passports which would be harder to counterfeit.



He also said the Foreign Office's travel advice for Israel would be amended to highlight the risk of papers being cloned, and how it can be minimised.



Other members of the hit squad travelled on fake Irish, French and Australian travel documents.







Gordon Brown's spokesman told reporters: "The Prime Minister was consulted on this decision and supports it."

The spokesman said the diplomat had technically been "asked to withdraw" from the UK, rather than expelled, and was being given two weeks to leave the country.



Mr Miliband met Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman yesterday and handed him a letter seeking formal assurance that in future Israel will never be party to the misuse of British passports, said the spokesman.



Also yesterday, the head of the UK diplomatic service, Sir Peter Ricketts, met Israeli Ambassador to London Ron Prosor.

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