Hamas blames Israel for killing

GAZA CITY : The Islamist Hamas movement blamed Israel on Friday for the death in Dubai earlier this month of one of the founders of its military wing and threatened retaliation at a time of its choosing.

"Mahmud Abdel Rauf al-Mabhuh died a martyr in Dubai on January 20, 2010 in suspect circumstances that require an inquiry in cooperation with the United Arab Emirates authorities," Hamas said in a statement released in its Gaza stronghold.

"We hold Israel responsible for the assassination of our brother and leader," the statement said, adding Hamas would "retaliate for this Zionist crime at the appropriate moment."

There was no immediate Israeli reaction to the allegation, which gave no details on exactly how he died.

There was also no immediate comment from the authorities in Dubai on Hamas's appeal for a joint inquiry.

In Damascus, where Hamas has its leadership in exile, politburo member Izzat al-Rishq also accused Israel of assassinating Mabhuh in a statement posted on the group's website.

"The Zionist enemy assassinated commander Mahmud al-Mabhuh in the United Arab Emirates," Rishq said, adding that Hamas would "avenge the blood shed by the martyr."

Born in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the north of the Gaza Strip, Mabhuh was one of the founders of Hamas's Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades armed wing. He was 50 at the time of his death.

Hamas said his remains had been flown to the Syrian capital where a funeral was to be held later on Friday.

Hamas said Mabhuh was behind the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in separate operations in 1989 during the early stages of the first 1987-1993 Palestinian uprising.

Avi Sasportas and Ilan Sadon were both later killed.

Mabhuh also masterminded a number of other attacks on Israeli targets and Israeli authorities demolished his home in Gaza in retaliation.

Mabhuh spent several spells in Israeli custody. After his last release, "he spent his life being hounded by the Zionist occupier until he succeeded in leaving the Gaza Strip," Hamas said.

"Our brother had been a target for the occupier ever since his participation in the kidnapping operation against the two Zionist soldiers, and for his role and support for the resistance."

Over the years, a number of Hamas leaders have died in operations Israel calls "targeted killings."

In 2004, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was killed in an Israeli helicopter gunship attack in Gaza.

One month later, another Hamas leader in Gaza, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi was killed when two missiles hit his car.

And in 1997, agents of Israel's Mossad overseas intelligence service poisoned Hamas's now leader Khaled Meshaal in a botched assassination bid in Jordan's capital Amman that nearly ruptured Israel's relations with its eastern neighbour.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since ousting forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in June 2007.

In December 2008, Israel launched a devastating offensive against the Palestinian territory in a bid to stem persistent rocket fire by militants.

It ended with reciprocal ceasefires the following month since when there have been sporadic rocket or mortar attacks and retaliatory Israeli air raids but no major fighting.