JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s defence minister said on Sunday a Palestinian scientist shot dead in Malaysia was a rocket expert and “no saint”, but dismissed suggestions by Hamas that Israel’s Mossad spy agency assassinated him.
Two men on a motorcycle fired 10 shots at Fadi al-Batsh, an engineering lecturer, in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, killing him on the spot, the city’s police chief, Mazlan Lazim said.
Hamas, an Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, said one of its members had been assassinated in Malaysia. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Mossad had been behind past attempts to kill Palestinian scientists, and the attack on Batsh “follows this sequence.”
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said it was likely that Batsh was killed as part of an internal Palestinian dispute.
“We heard about it in the news. The terrorist organisations blame every assassination on Israel - we’re used to that,” Lieberman told Israel Radio.
“The man was no saint and he didn’t deal with improving infrastructure in Gaza - he was involved in improving rockets’ accuracy ... We constantly see a settling of accounts between various factions in the terrorist organisations and I suppose that is what happened in this case.”
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Saturday the suspects in the killing, who fled the scene, were believed to be Europeans with links to a foreign intelligence agency, state news agency Bernama reported.
He added that Batsh was active in pro-Palestinian non-governmental organisations, describing him as an expert in electrical engineering and rocket-building.
He could have been seen as “a liability for a country that is an enemy of Palestine,” Zahid was quoted as saying by Bernama.
Malaysian police chief Mohamad Fuzi Bin Harun said on Sunday that no arrests had been made.
Batsh was a lecturer at Universiti Kuala Lumpur, specialising in power engineering, according to the university.
Batsh’s uncle Jamal al-Batsh, speaking to Reuters in the Gaza Strip, said he believed Mossad was behind the killing because “Israel knows Palestine will be liberated by scientists”.
Hamas, which advocates Israel’s destruction, fired thousands of rockets at Israel, most of them intercepted by an anti-missile system, during a 2014 Gaza war that included devastating Israeli attacks in the enclave of two million Palestinians.
In recent weeks, tensions have been running high at the Gaza-Israel border as Palestinians have ramped up protests demanding the right to return to homes that are now in Israel.
Israel’s use of live fire, killing at least 35 Palestinians, has drawn international criticism. Israel says it is protecting its borders and takes such action when protesters come too close to the border fence.
Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Keith Weir and Stephen Coates