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    Middle East
     Feb 24, 2010
Dubai hit exposes Hamas' weaknesses
By Mel Frykberg

RAMALLAH - Hamas has closed ranks and is licking its wounds following the January 20 assassination in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, of one of its top operatives, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. It is alleged that one of its own was responsible for providing the hit team with vital logistical information.

Dubai's chief of police, Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, on Sunday called on Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar to launch an "internal investigation" into the operation. Tamim claimed an associate of Mabhouh, a high-ranking military leader, leaked information about the Hamas leader's visit to Dubai and went as far as to refer to the associate as "the real murderer".

Mossad, the Israeli intelligence organization, is believed to have the motive and the means to carry out the killing. The organization has a history of assassinating Israel's political opponents abroad

  

and the Dubai murder bears its hallmark. Foreign media reports alleged that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the killing at the beginning of the year and members of the assassination squad were scouting out the location months before. Israelís foreign minister claimed no knowledge of the affair.
"This is a serious breach of Hamas' security, something which the organization hitherto had prided itself on. It shows that Israeli intelligence has managed to penetrate the inner circles of the group," Samir Awad, head of the political science department at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, told Inter Press Service (IPS).

The four men suspected of the murder at al-Bustan Rotana Hotel in Dubai were caught on closed circuit television leaving Mabhouh's room five hours after the Hamas commander checked in, according to the Financial Times. Earlier, the team assigned to watch the target donned tennis gear to pose as everyday hotel guests. Police believe Mabhouh was knocked out with a stun gun and then suffocated, according to the report. Mabhouh was a regular guest at the five-star property, the newspaper reported, citing hotel insiders.

The assassins, at least 11 carrying European passports, had arrived in Dubai from various destinations and had all left Dubai for destinations ranging from Paris to Johannesburg within 12 hours of the assassination, according to the report.

"The Israelis have had to struggle to infiltrate Hamas intelligence in the past due to the fact that the inner core of the movement is made up of hardcore idealogues whose religious zealotry made it difficult for them to be bribed," Awad told IPS. "This is one of the reasons that the Israelis have been unable to establish the precise location of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Hamas in Gaza for a number of years despite the many Israeli informers in Gaza."

Israeli public diplomacy minister Yuli Edelstein insisted he did not know who carried out the assassination. Speaking to a meeting of the Henry Jackson Society think-tank at the British parliament, he said: "Even if it will turn out that the worst secret service of the worst country in the world had managed to get to that guy, I will still not call it murder.

"We are talking about the worst murderer in one of the worst terrorist organizations, so let's not get overly emotional about his death, and let's not start mourning his death," according to the Daily Telegraph.

European foreign ministers have condemned the "fraudulent" use of EU passports by Mabhouhís killers. A joint statement called on all countries to cooperate with an investigation by the Dubai authorities but made no reference to Israel. The passport numbers of five Irish citizens were used in bogus passports used by the alleged killers, who also used six fake British passports and one each from France and Germany, the Irish Times reported.

Professor Moshe Ma'oz of Jerusalem's Hebrew University told IPS: "This is indeed a big blow to Hamas' invincibility."

Israel has found it easy to bribe Palestinian Authority (PA) members due to the nepotism and corruption pervading the organization.

"There are various methods Israeli intelligence uses to establish agents and get close to the Palestinian leadership in both political factions. This includes using drugs, women, financial bribery and emotional and political blackmail. This just goes to show that Hamas is human and has its weaknesses which too can be exploited," Ma'oz said.

The collective Hamas leadership has gone into damage control. Various sources approached by IPS refused to talk or even answer their phones.

Mahmoud Ramahi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in Ramallah who was imprisoned for three years by the Israelis for Hamas membership and who recently gave an exclusive interview to IPS on Hamas' stand on the 1967 borders, refused to comment.

"You will have to speak to Hamas in Gaza about this. I can only speak as a member of the PLC," Ramahi told IPS. A subsequent visit by IPS to the Ramallah offices of the Hamas PLC members failed to locate any of the PLC members.

Ahmed Yousef, a close associate of Gaza's Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and former foreign adviser to Gaza's Hamas leadership, also refused to comment.

"No, I'm not interested in talking about the Dubai assassination. Surely you can find somebody else to talk to?" Yousef asked, without saying why he wouldn't talk.

IPS then tried, without success, to contact Gaza's Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoun who had turned off his phone.

Another Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zahuri, denied foreign media reports that Hamas member Nahro Massoud has been arrested in Damascus by Dubai authorities, a denial supported by Hamas politburo chief-in-exile in Syria, Khaled Meshaal.

As more information about the subterfuge surrounding the assassination is made public knowledge, the more conspiracy theories circulate and the thicker the plot becomes.

Two former PA-affiliated Fatah members, and former PA intelligence officers in Gaza before Hamas overthrew the PA unity government in the June 2007 coup, have been named as chief suspects. Anwar Shheibar and Ahmed Hasnain were allegedly members of a death cell that carried out violent suppression of the PA's political opponents, especially Hamas members, before they fled Gaza after the 2007 coup.

They were recently arrested in Jordan then extradited to Dubai on request of the Dubai authorities, according to newspaper reports. The two are alleged to have rented hotel rooms and hired vehicles for the assassination squad.

They are further alleged to be close contacts of Muhammad Dahlan, one of the alleged chief instigators of an attempted Gaza coup against Hamas, which the organization pre-empted.

Media reports allege both men are not only employees of one of several Dubai-based companies run by Dahlan but until recently were also on the PA payroll in Ramallah. Dahlan has denied the claims, while a PA spokesman in Ramallah refused to be drawn on the issue.

"We are following a policy of no comment until the police in Dubai have finished their investigation as we believe this could negatively affect the outcome," Ghassan Khatib, a PA media office spokesman, told IPS.

Political scientist Awad told IPS: "While all the allegations regarding Hamas and PA involvement in cooperating with the assassination are just rumors and possibly conspiracy theories at this point in time, none of this bodes well for future unity between Hamas and the PA, or Palestinian peace talks with Israel."

Ma'oz, of Hebrew University, said other factors enter into the equation on future negotiations between the two Palestinian parties as both have a lot to lose from the current circumstances.

"With the correct pressure and intensive negotiations the two sides could still find common ground," Ma;oz told IPS.

(Inter Press Service)


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