Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, 50, founder of the Hamas' Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, died in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 20 and his body reached Damascus on Jan. 28, according to a statement from Izzat Rishq at Hamas headquarters in the Syrian capital early Friday, Jan. 29. He accused Israel of his assassination without specifying its circumstances; later, Hamas released another statement indicating that he died in suspicious circumstances which are being investigated.
Before that, on Jan 19, the movement reported that Mahmoud al-Mabhouh had just died of a severe bone ailment the day after he arrived in Abu Dhabi.
Israeli spokesmen have not commented on the Hamas allegation.
debkafile's intelligence sources estimate that Hamas may have belatedly dredged up his death to finger Israel – a sure-fire means of distracting attention from many its troubles, two in particular:
1. Political bureau chief Khaled Meshaal is up to his ears in a scandal labeled "Meshaalgate" by the Arab-language media. Our sources disclose the contents of a revealing letter he sent two weeks ago to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, in answer to the blunt questions put to him by Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, who said: Tell me who you are: An Arab or an Iranian?
Meshaal's letter to the king contained these sentences: "I am not an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood or even close to them." (Hamas was in fact established as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.)
He also protests: "I am not a supporter of Iran and I am not an Iranian" and "I don't support Syria, neither do I serve its interests."
Meshaal did not disclose the contents of his letter to his Hamas colleagues. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman decided to make it public to disgrace Meshaal and drive a wedge between the Palestinian Islamists and Tehran and Syria.
The ploy worked like a charm. The Hamas leader lost face in the Arab world and Hamas saw its highest figure of authority groveling feebly before Riyadh. Tehran, which backs, funds and arms Hamas, hit the ceiling and demanded clarifications from the entire Hamas leadership for Meshaal's assertion that he is no friend of Iran.
2. Hamas is also deeply divided over the negotiations for the release of 1,000 jailed Palestinians for the kidnapped Israeli sergeant Gilad Shalit.
Last week, the German mediator Gerhard Conrad resigned in a letter to the head of BND, which reached Chancellor Angela Merkel's desk and was discussed when she met Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Berlin last week and president Shimon Peres later.
Underlining the internal rift, Hamas' Gaza leader Mahmoud a-Zahar, broke away from the hard line dictated by Meshaal on the prisoner swap, relations with Cairo and Palestinian issues, and informed Egypt this week that he is willing to discuss terms with Egypt on all three items, if only Cairo agrees to lift its tight blockade on the Gaza Strip. Blame for the rupture in relations with Cairo and the breakdown of the prisoner swap talks was implicitly laid at the door of the confrontational Meshaal.
Mabhouh, a senior Hamas commander, was banished to Damascus in 1989 after orchestrating the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers, Avi Sasportas and Ilan Saadon, as part of a long Palestinian practice to trade dead Israelis for the release of large numbers of jailed terrorists.
More recently, he organized the smuggling of missiles into the Gaza Strip.