January 30, 2010 2:00 am

Hamas accuses Israel of killing official

Tensions between Israel and Hamas threatened to spiral out of control after the Islamist group claimed yesterday that one of its senior military commanders was killed by Israeli agents in Dubai.

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was wanted by Israel for his role in the abduction and killing of two of its soldiers, was found dead in a hotel room in the Gulf emirate on January 20. He was buried near the Syrian capital of Damascus yesterday, amid stark warnings from Hamas leaders that Mr al-Mabhouh's death would be avenged.

Dubai police said yesterday 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". There were no details on the precise cause of Mr al-Mabhouh's death. 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 yesterday 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 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 for a 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 alQassam 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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