DUBLIN — Ireland is to expel an Israeli diplomat over the use of forged Irish passports by suspects in the murder of a Hamas official in Dubai in January, the foreign ministry said Tuesday.
The decision was taken by Prime Minister Brian Cowen's government after investigations by police and passport office officials into the false documents used in the January killing of Hamas operative Mahmud al-Mabhuh.
It follows similar expulsions announced by Britain in March and Australia last month.
Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said Ireland had decided that "by way of protest at its unacceptable action, Israel be requested to withdraw a designated member of staff of its embassy in Dublin."
"This demand has been conveyed to the Israeli ambassador and I would expect it to be quickly acceded to," he said.
Israel called the move "regrettable".
"The Irish decision is regrettable and not in line with the importance of the relations between the two nations," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.
Mabhuh, a founder of the military wing of the Islamist Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip, was found dead in his room in the Al Bustan Rotana hotel near Dubai airport on January 20.
Twelve British, six Irish, four French, one German and three Australian passports were used by 26 people believed linked to the murder, according to Dubai police.
In many cases, the travel documents appeared either to have been faked or obtained illegally. Ireland and the four other countries whose passports were used called in Israeli envoys for talks.
Martin said evidence produced by Irish probes and the sophistication of the forged documents "clearly points to the involvement of a foreign state agency or a very well resourced criminal organisation with access to details of significant numbers of Irish passports".
Investigations by British and Australian authorities have reached similar conclusions, the Irish minister said, adding that there were "compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible".
Britain announced in March that it was expelling one Israeli diplomat, while Australia announced in May that it was throwing out an official from the Israeli embassy.
Martin added that, in accordance with normal diplomatic practice, he would not reveal either the name or function of the official whom the Israeli government has been requested to withdraw.
The Israeli spokesman also did not identify the diplomat in question, except to say it was not the ambassador.
"I want to state clearly that the official concerned is not accused or suspected of any particular wrongdoing. In being obliged to leave their post prematurely, the official concerned is a victim of the actions of the state they represent," he said.
Martin noted that he met his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman in March and asked him for any information which he felt might help the Dublin in its investigation.
But Israel has failed to provide any help, he said.
"I have to report that efforts to enlist the assistance of the Israeli authorities in the investigation of this case have yielded no response and no denial of Israeli involvement," he said.
"The misuse of Irish passports by a state with which Ireland enjoys friendly, if sometimes frank, bilateral relations is clearly unacceptable and requires a firm response."
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