British consulate staff 'linked to weapons plot'

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The Independent Online

Two local Palestinian employees of the British consulate general in Jerusalem have been charged on suspicion of arms trafficking as part of an investigation into an alleged plot by two Hamas militants to attack the city's most important football ground.

The Foreign Office said last night that it was urgently seeking details of the charges, which came to light the day after Israel's domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet, disclosed that it had charged two other Palestinians for planning an attack on the Teddy stadium, home of the premier league club Beitar Jerusalem.

The Israeli statement announced that others had also been charged with arms offences, and it emerged yesterday that these included two maintenance men at the British consulate, the main embassy-level diplomatic mission to the Palestinian Authority. The men were named last night as Mohammed Hamadeh and Bilal Bakhatan.

The Foreign Office said it was "aware of reports" that the men may be charged with "illegal sale of weapons" but added that it had been assured by the Israeli authorities that the charges were "unconnected" with their work in the consulate, housed in the East Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah.

Shin Bet had earlier lifted a gag on the arrest in November, and Sunday's subsequent indictment of the two militants, named as Mussa Hamada and Bassem Omari, an Israeli citizen, whom the agency said had planned an attack on the football ground in response to Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli military's 2008-09 offensive in Hamas-controlled Gaza. In the event the attack did not take place.

The announcement said that the two alleged Hamas militants' activities had included "systematically checking how best to launch a projectile when the stadium was crowded with people during a game". It also said that Bassem Omari had planned an attack, "possibly a kidnapping", against soldiers in the Israeli military.

The Israeli authorities indicated that the two UK consulate employees were indicted for helping the alleged Hamas militants acquire weaponry.