Senior Hamas leader murdered in Dubai hotel

Israel accused of assassination at hotel as police say suspects are mostly European passport holders from 'an experienced criminal gang' who have fled the country.

Father of senior Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh poses with his son's picture at his family house in the northern Gaza Strip January 29, 2010. Israel assassinated al-Mabhouh, who played a major role in a Palestinian uprising in the 1980s, in Dubai, an official in the Islamist group said on Friday. Israeli officials had no immediate comment. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST IMAGES OF THE DAY) *** Local Caption ***  SJS02_PALESTINIANS-_0129_11.JPG *** Local Caption ***  SJS02_PALESTINIANS-_0129_11.JPG
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A senior member of the Palestinian militant group Hamas has been found murdered in a Dubai hotel. Hamas accused agents from Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, of assassinating Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a founder of their military wing, the Ezzedeen al Qassam Brigades.

The Israeli government has not commented on the claims. Dubai Police confirmed that the body of al Mabhouh, 50, was found on January 20, a day after he entered the country from an unnamed Arab state. A statement said the suspects were mostly European passport holders and members of an "experienced criminal gang" who had been monitoring al Mabhouh's movements. The suspects fled the country before al Mabhouh's body was found in a room in a hotel, which police sources last night identified as Al Bustan Rotana in Al Garhoud.

Dubai Police are co-ordinating with Interpol on the case in an attempt to track down the killers. Hotel staff, speaking anonymously, confirmed that a Palestinian man had been found dead on the premises "about a week ago". Speaking to Al Jazeera from the Gaza Strip, al Mabhouh's brother, Fayeq, said the family had been informed by Hamas and "people close to the UAE authorities" that his brother had been murdered.

"The information we have is that he was assassinated inside his hotel room," he said. "He first received an electrical shock on the head and then he was strangled." According to a Hamas statement issued from Damascus yesterday, al Mabhouh "died a martyr in Dubai on January 20, 2010 in suspect circumstances that require an inquiry in co-operation with the United Arab Emirates authorities". The statement vowed that Hamas would "retaliate for this Zionist crime at the appropriate moment".

Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said last night that the killing showed that Israel "does not respect international law. It does not respect the sovereignty of other states. The country wants to show its hands can reach anywhere without being held accountable." Al Mabhouh was born in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza and was reportedly a key military planner in Hamas. Some sources suggest that he was a pivotal figure in attempts to procure weapons for Gaza.

Hamas said he had been involved in the capture and subsequent killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989, when he was exiled. Since then he had been based in Damascus, where he was reportedly close to the exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. Al Mabhouh spent his life in and out of Israeli detention and was one of the state's most wanted men. The Israeli army destroyed the al Mabhouh family house in Gaza by way of retaliation, a common form of punishment by Israel.

On Thursday, his body was flown to Syria and yesterday a funeral was held in Al Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. Mr Meshaal told thousands of Palestinians who turned out to mourn al Mabhouh that the "resistance will go on" and described him as a "great man" who fought the Israelis for 30 years. "I say to you Zionists, do not rejoice. You killed him, but his sons will fight you." Over the years a number of Hamas leaders have been killed in Israeli assassinations, or what Israel calls "targeted killings".

The founder of Hamas, Ahmed Yassin, a quadriplegic, was killed in Gaza when two missiles struck his wheelchair as he returned from morning prayers in 2004. A month later, Abdel Aziz Rantissi, who succeeded him, was killed in a similar attack. Since then, the Hamas leadership has divided responsibilities between those within the occupied Palestinian territories and those in exile. Overall leadership now rests with Mr Meshaal, who, in 1997, was himself the target of an unsuccessful Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan.

Al Mabhouh's assassination comes as a fragile truce is holding in and around Gaza. Hamas has been largely successful in ending the rocket fire against Israel, wary of a repeat of Israel's fierce attacks on the impoverished strip last year. * Additional reporting by Eugene Harnan