Australia PM ‘not satisfied’ with Israel’s explanation

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Australia’s prime minister said he was “not satisfied” with Israel’s response regarding the use of three Australian passports in the assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai.

Kevin Rudd said in a news conference last Friday that Ambassador Yuval Rotem, who a day earlier had been summoned by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith for an explanation, had not yet clarified Jerusalem’s position on the Jan. 20 assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

“When it comes to Australian passport fraud or the use and abuse of Australian passports, this government has an absolutely hard line on defending the integrity of our passport system,” Rudd said. “That is why the foreign minister has called in the Israeli ambassador and asked for an explanation. Thus far we are not satisfied with that explanation.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry President Robert Goot spoke publicly for the first time Monday, saying the government had “acted correctly” by ordering an investigation into the alleged fraud.

But an editorial in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald scolded the Israeli government’s “insouciant attitude,” adding that if it is proven that Mossad tampered with the passports, Rudd should be “as resolute in his response” as New Zealand’s then-Prime Minister Helen Clark was in 2004 when she severed high-level diplomatic ties after two Mossad agents were caught trying to obtain a Kiwi passport.

The Australian newspaper stopped short of calling for diplomatic sanctions, saying in an editorial Saturday that if it is proven that Jerusalem was behind the passport fraud, it was “an appalling mistake.”

“Abuse of passports by officials of any foreign government is an outrage," the paper said. "The Prime Minister has put Israel on notice: Australia would not regard the abuse of our passports as the act of a friend.”

Meanwhile, Australia altered its position on a United Nations vote last Friday, abstaining on a resolution demanding that Israel and the Palestinians investigate alleged war crimes during last year’s war in Gaza. Australia voted against a similar resolution three months ago, but the government denied any link between the passport scandal and the softening of its stance at the U.N.
 

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