Britain said Sunday that Israel has admitted using forged British passports, and a newspaper said the fake documents were intended to help agents of the Israeli secret service attack foes abroad.
The Foreign Office said it strongly protested to Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Avner last October about "misuse by the Israeli authorities of forged British passports." It said Israel later apologized and promised not to do it again.
"On the basis of these assurances we regard the matter as closed," a Foreign Office spokesman said.
The Foreign Office did not explicitly accuse Israel of forging the documents, but the Sunday Times did.
The newspaper said in a front-page story that eight forged British passports intended "for Mossad secret service hit men to attack opponents abroad . . . were discovered by chance last summer in a bag inside a telephone booth in West Germany." Mossad is the Israeli secret service.
"The bag also contained a genuine Israeli passport and envelopes linking the documents with an Israeli Embassy," the newspaper said.
The article did not say where in West Germany or by whom the blank forged passports were found. It described them as "high-quality Israeli forgeries."
The paper said the discovery prompted a furious diplomatic argument between Israel and Britain, with Israel at first refusing to apologize.
The Foreign Office declined to comment on details of the Sunday Times story. But a spokesman said Foreign Office Minister Timothy Renton, in his meeting with the ambassador, "protested very strongly about the misuse by the Israeli authorities of forged British passports and sought an assurance it would not happen again.
"We subsequently got an expression of regret from the Israeli authorities and assurances that steps had been taken to prevent it occurring again," the spokesman said. In accordance with British practice, he spoke on condition of anonymity.
Reached by telephone, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report. "We have nothing to say on that," said the official, who refused to give his name.
The Sunday Times said Israeli agents twice in the 1970s used "British passports illegally to pursue Palestinian terrorists," and Britain protested at the time but "without success."
After the West German discovery, it took seven attempts by the Foreign Office, including five contacts with Avner, to extract an apology from Israel and a promise that the forgeries would not be repeated, the newspaper said.
Avner apologized in January, the Sunday Times said. Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe also complained directly to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who promised the forgeries would not be repeated, the newspaper added.
It said that in 1979 an Israeli woman using a British passport in the name of Erika Mary Chambers detonated a car bomb in Beirut that killed nine people, including the suspected organizer of the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
In 1973, Israeli agents using three British passports raided the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Beirut, killing three PLO officials, the report said.