RAMALLAH, West Bank – Hamas claimed Friday that two ex-officers from the rival Fatah organization were involved in the assassination of a Hamas operative in Dubai, and Fatah shot back by insinuating Hamas members were the ones who collaborated with the killers.
The slaying of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a luxury Dubai hotel room last month has widely been blamed on Israel's Mossad spy agency but it also has sparked bitter recriminations among the rival Palestinian factions, which have long competed for influence in the Palestinian territories.
Dubai police unveiled 11 suspects — 10 men and one woman — who apparently traveled to Dubai on European passports with real names and authentic data, but possibly altered photos.
Dubai also said police had two Palestinians in custody for alleged involvement in the murder of al-Mabhouh, whose body was found on Jan. 20. The two were arrested in Jordan shortly after the killing, then sent back to Dubai.
A Hamas Web site, the Palestine Information Center, said those two men were former Fatah security officers and current employees of a senior Fatah official, who was not identified. Dubai authorities have not identified the two Palestinians and would not comment Friday.
Hamas stopped short of accusing Fatah of collaborating with the Mossad, however. Izzat al-Rishq, a member of Hamas' leadership in Damascus, told The Associated Press on Friday that Hamas is "not accusing any party" other than Israel, though he said the agents might have used "small collaborators for logistic issues."
The Hamas Web site identifies the two men as Anwar Shheibar and Ahmad Hassanain. It says they served in Fatah's security services in Gaza, fled the territory in 2006, and currently work for a construction company owned by a high-ranking Fatah official, Mohammed Dahlan.
Dahlan denied any connection to the men or to the killing, telling the Kuwait-based paper Gulf News in an interview published Friday that Hamas was "following mirages created by Israel."
A Fatah spokesman also denied the charge. "Hamas is trying by these accusations to cover up the security flaws in the first lines of its leadership," said Adnan Damiri, a spokesman for Palestinian security forces in the Fatah-ruled West Bank. "Hamas is the only one to know the movement of Al-Mabhouh, and from there the information went to the Israelis."
Officials of the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank city of Ramallah said the two men are former members of Fatah who later joined Hamas security forces in Gaza. They said the men were sent to Dubai on Hamas business last month but had no further details. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not been given permission to comment publicly.
Israel has refused to comment on accusations it was behind the killing, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying Wednesday that "Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies."
Hamas and Fatah have been trading accusations over the affair for days, but Friday's allegations were the first time names were used. Each side has made attempts to tone down the rhetoric — perhaps to avoid destroying prospects for reconciliation between the rivals who control separate territories on opposite sides of Israel.
The Western-backed Fatah and the Islamic militant Hamas fought a bloody civil war in 2007 that left Hamas in charge of Gaza and Fatah in control of the West Bank. Palestinians hope to establish a state in both areas.