x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Rudd not satisfied with passport response

Australia has stepped up pressure on Israel over fake passports linked to the murder of a top Hamas commander, saying it was yet to receive a satisfactory explanation.

Australia has stepped up pressure on Israel over fake passports linked to the murder of a top Hamas commander, saying it was yet to receive a satisfactory explanation. The prime minister Kevin Rudd said his government had an "absolutely hard line" on defending the integrity of its passport system and took seriously allegations that suspected Mossad assassins had stolen Australian identities. "That is why the foreign minister has called in the Israeli ambassador and asked for an explanation," Mr Rudd told reporters.

"Thus far we are not satisfied with that explanation." Canberra summoned the ambassador Yuval Rotem on Thursday and warned that friendly ties were at risk if Israel was found to have sponsored or condoned the tampering of three Australian passports, linked to the killing of Mahmud al Mabhouh. Mr Rudd said "very complex and security intelligence matters" were at stake. "I wish to tread very carefully with the security and intelligence matters which arise in relation to each of the individuals and families concerned with this matter," he said,

"Therefore I'm choosing my words very carefully so as not to compromise any person or so as not to compromise any continuing investigation." Mr Rudd declined to comment on local media reports that the domestic spy agency ASIO was carrying out an unrelated probe into three Australian-Israelis suspected of using their dual citizenship as a cover to spy for Israel. "Consistent with the long-standing practice of the Australian government, we do not comment on the individual details of intelligence matters," Mr Rudd said.

"Let me add one thing," he continued. "When it comes to national security and defending the national security of this country, Australia, we will take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that our security interests are not being compromised by any other state." The Israel-based Australians caught in the passport scandal - Joshua Daniel Bruce, Nicole Sandra McCabe and Adam Korman - were among 15 named in connection with the killing of Mr al Mabhouh.

Israeli ambassadors in four European countries have been summoned for talks and the European Union has also voiced outrage over the use of fake passports after an earlier list of 11 people was released. The real Ms McCabe, a 27-year-old mother to be who has lived in Israel for two and a half years, said she first learned of her passport's link to the crime from a radio news bulletin. "I have no idea how they got hold of my passport. Obviously it's not my photo," she told the Daily Telegraph newspaper. "I don't know any of these people, I don't know the other Australians."

"I'm terrified, I haven't slept and I'm shaky. I'm worried for my health and I'm worried for my baby's health," she added. An ex-Mossad spy Friday claimed the agency regularly faked Australian passports, because it was a relatively benign English-speaking country about which little was known in the Middle East. "It's an easy cover to take, very few people know very much about Australia," said Victor Ostrovsky.

"You can tell whatever stories you want. It doesn't take much of an accent to be an Australian or New Zealander, or an Englishman for that matter. "I know people had been under Australian cover not once (but) quite a few times. So why not use it (again)?" *AFP