Last updated: January 31, 2010 1:31 pm

Israel says Hamas man was Iran arms link

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Israeli security officials on Sunday alleged that a senior military commander of Hamas, the Palestinian miliitant group, found dead in a Dubai hotel was a leading conduit for weapons supplies from Iran.

An Israeli security source cited by Reuters news agency said on Sunday that Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was “a strategic asset” in the efforts of militant groups to smuggle rockets and other weapons into the Gaza Strip which Hamas controls.

Separately a Hamas spokesman in Damascus confirmed to Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper that Mr al-Mabhouh was an important arms supplier and was “on a mission” in Dubai when he was killed.

On Friday the Islamist group claimed that Mr al-Mabhouh, who was wanted by Israel for his role in the abduction and killing of two of its soldiers, was killed by Israeli agents in Dubai.

Mr al-Mabhouh was found dead in a hotel room in the Gulf emirate on January 20. He was buried near the Syrian capital of Damascus on Friday, amid stark warnings from Hamas leaders that his death would be avenged.

Dubai police said they had identified the killers but revealed only that the suspects had travelled on European passports and left the country before Mr al-Mabhouh’s body was found.

According to the United Arab Emirates state news agency, a security official described the death as “murder”, blaming it on a criminal gang that “had been tracking down the movements of the victim before entering the UAE”. The agency added that Dubai police were now preparing to call on Interpol, the international police body, to arrest the suspects.

Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip and Damascus said they were determined to take revenge on Israel “in due time”. Israel and the Islamist group have sought to avoid a head-on confrontation since the end of the Gaza war one year ago. However, there were fears that the death of Mr al-Mabhouh could be the trigger for a renewed outbreak of violence in and around the Gaza Strip in the weeks ahead.

Israeli officials declined to comment publicly on the death, in line with a long-standing government policy to neither confirm nor deny responsibility for attacks on targets abroad.

However, Israel has repeatedly been linked to assassinations and aerial attacks in neighbouring countries in recent years. The country was also forced to take responsibility fora botched assassination attempt on Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Amman in 1997, after Jordan apprehended the Israeli agents responsible for the attack.

Mr al-Mabhouh was born in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip, where he became an early and influential member of the al-Qassam brigades, the Hamas military arm. He fled the territory in 1989, shortly after being identified as the man responsible for the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers during the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

He continued to serve as a senior Hamas official while being based in Syria, Lebanon and other Arab countries.

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