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Britain and Israel in stand-off over Mossad officer

Passport assassination row rumbles on

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The Foreign Office has refused to allow Israel to return a Mossad officer to London following the assassination of a senior member of Hamas in Dubai by agents travelling on British passports, it's reported.

Britain is seeking assurances that its identity documents will not be abused in future, but Israel has refused because such an undertaking would amount to confirmation it carried out the killing, the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said.

The previous London Mossad officer - publicly referred to by both countries as a "diplomat" - was expelled in late March, after Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was murdered in his hotel room in January.

The Foreign Office today said Israel had made no approach to replace the Mossad officer. "However, we look to Israel to rebuild the trust we believe is required for the full and open relationship we would like," it said.

"We have asked for specific assurances from Israel, which would clearly be a positive step towards rebuilding that trust. Any Israeli request for the diplomat to be replaced would be considered against the context of these UK requests."

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said in March the use of 12 cloned British passports by the assassination team was "intolerable" and showed "a profound disregard for the sovereignty of the United Kingdom". There was "compelling evidence" that Israel was behind the plot, he told MPs.

The Serious and Organised Crime Agency is conducting a full inquiry into the affair.

Despite the Foreign Office demand, any undertaking from Mossad that it would never again abuse British passports would be likely to be received with skepticism in many quarters.

Margaret Thatcher shut down the agency's UK operation in 1988, partly because plans to use British passports in operations against Palestinian exiles had emerged. Mossad officers were allowed to return to London after apparently giving assurances the transgression would not be repeated. ®

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