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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Israel denies Mossad killed Hamas rocket expert in Malaysia motorcycle assassination

Autopsy being carried out on body of Palestinian professor gunned down in Kuala Lumpur

Mohammad Shehad, 17, a student and relative of Palestinian scientist Fadi Mohammad Al Batsh who was gunned down April 21 in what his family claim was an assassination by Israel's Mossad spy agency, walks towards the entrance of al-Batsh's residence in Kuala Lumpur on April 22, 2018. Mohd Rasfan / AFP
Mohammad Shehad, 17, a student and relative of Palestinian scientist Fadi Mohammad Al Batsh who was gunned down April 21 in what his family claim was an assassination by Israel's Mossad spy agency, walks towards the entrance of al-Batsh's residence in Kuala Lumpur on April 22, 2018. Mohd Rasfan / AFP

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday denied the Mossad spy agency had any role in the drive-by assassination of a Palestinian scientist in Kuala Lumpur.

Palestinian militant group Hamas said 35-year-old Fadi Al Batsh was one of its members and both the group and his family blamed Israel’s secretive Mossad agency for his murder in the Malaysian capital. Two men on a motorcycle fired as many as 14 bullets at him as walked from his apartment to dawn prayers, Malaysian authorities said.

Leader Ismail Haniyeh said Israel had previously targeted Palestinian scientists and the shooting “follows this sequence”.

Mr Lieberman admitted that the engineer was a rocket expert but said his death was likely due to infighting among Palestinian militant groups.

“We heard about it in the news. The terrorist organisations blame every assassination on Israel — we're used to that,” he told Israel Radio.

“The man was no saint and he didn't deal with improving infrastructure in Gaza — he was involved in improving rockets' accuracy,” he continued. “We constantly see a settling of accounts between various factions in the terrorist organisations and I suppose that is what happened in this case”.

Kuala Lumpur police chief Mazlan Lazim said the investigation had become global, pointing to the possible role of foreign actors.

“We are investigating all angles. I have to investigate very carefully and deeply. This is an international issue,” Mr Lazim said on Sunday.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the suspects were believed to be Europeans with ties to a foreign spy agency.

Hamas has used rocket technology to develop small and medium range missiles that can reach into Israeli territory from Gaza. In the last round of conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2014, a seven-week summer war, Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israel.

Israel has long been suspected of involvement in several high-profile assassinations of Hamas operatives, including the 2010 killing of the militant group’s commander Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel. It often denies involvement or refuses to comment on such operations.

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Tensions are rising between Israel and Hamas in both Gaza and the West Bank. Overnight, the Israeli military arrested 15 people in the West Bank who it said were operatives for Hamas. It said they were working with a Hamas operative from Gaza to help it grow in the territory controlled its rival Fatah faction.

In Gaza, protesters have engaged in weekly rounds of rallies ahead of next month’s Nakba Day, the annual commemoration of what Palestinians believe to be their day of “disaster”.

Israeli forces have killed at least 32 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,500. Hamas has called for the weekly rallies and Israel has accused many of the protesters of being members of the militant group who have tried to breach the shared border fence. But rights groups say most are civilians. One of those killed included a 15-year-old boy, Mohammed Ayyoub who eyewitnesses said was more than 100 yards from the fence and unarmed at the time of his death.

The European Union and United Nations have both called for an investigation into the most recent deaths in Gaza.

Palestinian anger has steadily increased over the past year as the US administration led by President Donald Trump continues to appear to side with Israel in the conflict.

On Friday, the State Department released its annual human rights report, omitting the term “Occupied Territories” in a first that altered decades of US foreign policy.

Ahmad Majdalani, an executive member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation said the State Department was “attempting to abolish the depiction of occupation from these territories, which affirms US complicity with the occupation”. He said the US decision, alongside other moves in favour of Israel, “discredit it and its team for the political process”.