Police are hunting 11 suspects with European passports, including a woman, for the murder in a Dubai hotel room of a top militant of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, the Gulf emirate's police chief said yesterday.

The hit team which killed Mahmud al-Mabhuh last month was made up of six British passport holders, three with Irish passports, including the woman, and the holders of a German and a French passport, Dhafi Khalfan said.

"We have no doubts that it was 11 people holding these passports, and we regret that they used the travel documents of friendly countries," he told a press conference.

While not ruling out "the involvement of (Israel's spy agency) Mossad or other parties in the assassination," Mr Khalfan said the names on the passports had been passed on to Interpol to request arrest warrants.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has accused Israel of killing Mr Mabhuh, 50, who was found dead in his luxury hotel room in Dubai on January 20, and vowed revenge.

Its members have acknowledged that Mr Mabhuh, who was based in Damascus, was on a visit to Dubai to buy weapons for the militant group's armed wing.

Mr Mabhuh, who was born in northern Gaza, confessed to his involvement in the 1989 killings of two captured Israeli soldiers, in a video aired more than two weeks after his death.

Last month, Mr Khalfan said "it seems (Mabhuh) opened the door" of his room, letting his killers in. "Mabhuh was suffocated," he said, adding that "strangulation is possible."

According to Mr Khalfan, Mr Mabhuh entered the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a member, a day before his death using a passport that did not bear his family name.

Amid official silence in the Jewish state, Israeli newspapers have hailed the killing, with the rightwing Jerusalem Post calling it "another blow to the 'axis of evil'."

According to Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, citing unidentified Middle East sources, Mr Mabhuh on arrival in Dubai was followed by two men described by local police as "Europeans carrying European passports".

The hit squad injected Mr Mabhuh with a drug that induced a heart attack, photographed all the documents in his briefcase, and left a "do not disturb" sign on the door, it said. It added that the Hamas leader was on a mission to buy arms from Iran, and was tracked from the moment he boarded Emirates flight EK 912 from Damascus on January 18.

Over the years, a number of Hamas leaders have died in what Israel calls "targeted killings."

In 2004, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was killed in an Israeli helicopter gunship attack in Gaza. One month later, another Hamas leader in the enclave, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, was killed when two missiles hit his car.

In 1997, Israeli agents tried to poison Hamas's exiled political supremo Khaled Meshaal in Amman, while in 1995.

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