- New Zealand suspended high-level diplomatic relations
with Israel yesterday after two suspected Mossad agents were jailed for
six months for passport fraud.
- Uriel Zoshe Kelman and Eli Cara were sentenced at Auckland
High Court for trying to obtain a passport in the name of a wheelchair-bound
man with cerebral palsy. Minutes later, New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen
Clark, launched a blistering attack on Israel, saying its actions had "seriously
strained" relations between the two countries.
- A furious Ms Clark said her government regarded "the
act carried out by the Israeli intelligence agents as not only utterly
unacceptable but also a breach of New Zealand sovereignty and international
- The affair is being cited as the biggest diplomatic row
to hit New Zealand since the Rainbow Warrior debacle of 1985, when the
country severed relations with France after French secret agents sunk the
Greenpeace flagship in Auckland Harbour.
- Kelman, 30, and Cara, 50, were arrested in March after
a passport officer became suspicious of a telephone call. He noted that
the caller had an American or Canadian accent and called the disabled man's
father. The pair had obtained the man's birth certificate and were using
it in their attempt to secure a passport. One claimed to be a travel agent
from Sydney, although there was no evidence that he operated a business
- The men's motives were not clear, but a New Zealand passport
is regarded as anodyne and guarantees visa-free access to many countries.
- Two other Israelis believed to be involved in the attempted
fraud left the country before it was uncovered, police said. One was named
as Zev William Barkan, 36; the identity of the other man was not known.
The four had travelled in and out of New Zealand on numerous occasions
in the past four years.
- Kelman and Cara denied being members of Mossad, but Ms
Clark made clear that she had no doubts about their identities. "New
Zealand condemns without reservations these actions by agencies of the
Israeli government," she said.
- She announced diplomatic sanctions including the suspension
of high-level visits to Israel by New Zealand government officials and
a veto on a request by the Israeli President, Moshe Katsav, to visit the
country next month.
- The Wellington government also cancelled talks planned
between the two foreign ministries later this year and said any Israelis
visiting New Zealand on government business would have to apply for a visa.
Approval of the appointment of a new Israeli ambassador to New Zealand
has been put on hold.
- The two men both admitted trying to obtain a New Zealand
passport illegally, which carries a maximum penalty of five years. They
also admitted working with organised crime gangs to obtain a false passport.
- The relatively light sentence was handed down after they
changed their plea to guilty at a court hearing two weeks ago. As well
as being jailed they were ordered to give $50,000 (£17,500) to the
Cerebral Palsy Society of New Zealand.
- Silvan Shalom, Israel's Foreign Minister, said Israel
would work to restore diplomatic relations with New Zealand, adding: "Israel
has a long tradition of excellent relations with New Zealand, and we will
do everything necessary - together with the New Zealand government - to
- - The Israeli army said yesterday that it was treating
as a matter of "high importance" figures showing the alarming
incidence of suicide by serving soldiers. A report in the Maariv newspaper
said 43 soldiers committed suicide last year, compared with 30 killed in
combat, a 30 per cent rise on 2002.
- © 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd http://news.independent.co.uk/world/australasia/story.jsp?story=541474