DUBAI AND RAMALLAH // Dubai's chief of police, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, confirmed that a Hamas delegation would not be allowed to enter the UAE following the slaying of one of its senior operatives in the emirate.
Mahmoud al Mabhouh was killed in his hotel room on January 20. Gen Tamim said: "We will not allow a Hamas delegation to enter the country, and we will only deal with the Palestinian Embassy and consulate, which are the official representatives in the country. We do not acknowledge the differences. For us, there is only one Palestine, not two." There is frustration in Hamas' Damascus offices over the way the UAE has handled the killing of al Mabhouh, who they say was a frequent visitor to Dubai.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one senior Hamas official questioned the speed of Dubai's response to the killing. "Al Mabhouh was killed on January 20, but there was no announcement until 29 January. That's almost 10 days. What was the reason for the delay?" he asked. "Such delays gave lots of time for the murderers to escape." Hamas also says UAE officials were reluctant to allow al Mabhouh's body to return to Syria, and that his corpse was only repatriated for burial after "some Arab countries intervened and put heavy pressure on them".
Gen Tamim dismissed Hamas claims about delays in the repatriation of al Mabhouh's body. "For the first five days, nobody came and asked me about the body," he said. "It seems that they were asking at police stations while the issue is with state security. "We had to carry out our examinations, which took some time, especially since we initially thought that it was a natural death." Gen Tamim pledged that his department would reveal more information about the killing when it was appropriate.
"We do not work in the dark and we are transparent," he said. "Every single detail about the murder will be made public." He declined to offer a time frame for when the information would be released. He also dismissed media reports that al Mabhouh was in Dubai to buy weapons, claiming instead that he was here to buy items for a "personal workshop". Gen Tamim met the Palestinian consul general in Dubai, Hussein Abdul al Khaleq, yesterday to update him on the investigation.
Mr al Khaleq said if there was to be any co-ordination between Hamas and the consulate, it would have to be at the direction of the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah. "Until now we have not received any directions on this case," he said. Hamas has accused Israeli agents of carrying out the killing. The Palestinian group says it is carrying out its own inquiry into the crime, and is reviewing its security procedures.
UAE authorities also say al Mabhouh's assassination bears the hallmarks of an operation undertaken by Mossad, the external Israeli intelligence agency. Israel, as a matter of policy, has refused to comment on the death, but the country's secret service has been behind many similar assassinations of Palestinian activists since the 1960s. Meanwhile, Israel struck at least two tunnels in southern Gaza early yesterday, while Hamas announced that prisoner-exchange negotiations were suspended indefinitely.
Both developments were in part fallout from the assassination of the Hamas operative in Dubai. The Israeli military said air strikes on tunnels, reportedly from Gaza to Israel, came in response to an attempt by three Palestinian groups, Islamic Jihad, the Fatah-affiliated Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), to launch an unusual "sea strike". Two barrels laden with explosives washed up on shore in southern Israel on Monday. It is not clear how they were meant to be used, but a spokesman for the PRC said the operation was planned as vengeance for the slaying of al Mabhouh.
Hamas officials have said that attempts to reach a prisoner exchange deal have been suspended, blaming both Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, as well as the assassination of al Mabhouh. Hamas and Israel have been locked in prisoner exchange negotiations, first under Egyptian, then German, mediation for months now. December was rife with rumours that talks had reached fruition, but no deal was ever struck and negotiations have been effectively frozen since.
Hamas wants the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jail, among them high-profile political and military leaders. Israel is looking to secure the release of a soldier that was captured along the border with Gaza in 2006. Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman, said the indirect negotiations had also been suspended because of the Mabhouh assassination. "The current circumstances do not allow a continuation of the indirect talks to finalise a prisoner swap deal," Mr Taha said.
In recent years, Hamas activists have been in the firing line of what Israel calls "targeted killings". The group's spiritual leader, Ahmed Yassin, a quadriplegic, was killed in Gaza in 2004 when two missiles struck his wheelchair as he returned from morning prayers. A month later, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who succeeded him, was killed when two missiles struck his car. Khalid Mishaal, the current Hamas leader, was himself the target of a botched Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997.
Hillel Schenker, an Israeli journalist, said Israel's policy of assassinations was controversial in the country, partly because it is pursued without thought to the political consequences. "The military does not take into consideration the broader context or how an assassination will play out, certainly not in the Arab world," said Mr Schenker. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com * With additional reporting by Phil Sands in Damascus