Paris says the killers of a Hamas leader in Dubai stole the identities of French citizens as pressure mounts on Israel to offer explanations over what is thought to be a murder carried out by the Israeli intelligence services.
AFP - Pressure mounted on Israel Thursday as Australia became the latest country seeking answers over the use of Western passports in the Dubai killing by suspected Mossad agents of a top Hamas militant.
And France said that the suspected killers had stolen the identities of French citizens and used three forged French passports to travel to Dubai.
The passports were "clearly forged" allowing the "impersonation of French citizens," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters.
Australia summoned the Israeli ambassador to discuss the latest development in the investigation into the killing, which Dubai's police chief has said was most likely carried out by agents of the Israeli intelligence service.
Australia "will not be silent on the matter," said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd after three Australian passport-holders were named among 15 new suspects linked to last month's Cold War-style killing of Mahmud al-Mabhuh.
"If Australian passports are being used or forged by any state, let alone for the purpose of assassination, this is of the deepest concern and we are getting to the bottom of this now," Rudd told public broadcaster ABC.
"We will not leave a single stone unturned."
A statement Monday from Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said there was no evidence to link Israel to the killing of Mabhuh, who was found dead at a luxury Dubai hotel on January 20.
But the country's envoys have already been called in over the affair by four European countries -- Britain, France, Germany and Ireland -- because of the use of such passports seemingly issued by these countries.
In many cases, the documents appeared either to have been faked or obtained illegally.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who summoned Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem for an explanation Thursday, said initial investigations showed the Australian passports were probably "duplicated or altered".
They had not yet reached any conclusions, Smith added.
"But I made it crystal clear to the ambassador that if the results of that investigation cause us to come to the conclusion that the abuse of Australian passports was in any way sponsored or condoned by Israeli officials, then Australia would not regard that as the act of a friend."
The other 15 new suspects being sought are six British, three French and three Irish passport-holders, Dubai investigators said in a statement.
Wednesday's announcement by Dubai police brought the total number of people being sought to 26. All had used Western passports.
In addition to the Western suspects, three Palestinians are being questioned over the killing, Al-Ittihad newspaper reported on Thursday, citing a police source.
Dubai police have previously announced that they have in custody two Palestinians, who were deported from Jordan.
"The source confirmed that one of those (previously-detained) Palestinians has been proven to have been involved in Mabhuh's killing," Al-Ittihad said.
The scale of the operation as detailed by Dubai police has raised eyebrows in Israel.
"It is hard to believe that, if Mossad ... carried out the operation, the planners were so irresponsible as to dispatch nearly 30 agents and to expose an entire select operational unit on one assassination operation," said Yossi Melman, security correspondent for Israel's Haaretz newspaper.
"Either the new revelations are another salvo in Dubai's psychological warfare or the police investigators are groping in the dark."
Ronen Bergman, a security analyst writing in Israel's mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper, queried whether the size of the operation was warranted.
"Was Mabhuh worth this? It depends whom you ask. Most of the people involved agree that the enormous risk, whose full details will never be revealed, would have been justified only if he himself had been smuggling a nuclear warhead from Tehran to Gaza," he wrote.
"Other than that, there is no terror activist who is worth it."
Mabhuh, who masterminded a number of attacks on Israeli targets, was electrocuted and strangled to death, according to his brother.
Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, has reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorised the mission and met members of the hit squad shortly before their departure.
Date created : 2010-02-25