Members of an Israeli death squad who killed a leading Hamas figure used Irish passports to enter Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where the killing occurred, authorities there say.

Seven people, including one woman, were said to have taken part in the death squad which killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh (50), said to be a top arms procurer for Hamas and wanted by Israel for the killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989. Four of the seven had Irish passports, say police.

Medical experts say al-Mabhouh died from asphyxiation from a pillow found near his body and stained with blood. A maid found his body the next day.

An Irish Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said: "We are aware of the media reports and we are in contact with authorities locally to try and determine the truth of the reports."

If it is true the implications for relations between Israel and Ireland are significant. It would place Irish passport holders who travel to Arab countries in some jeopardy. Israeli/Ireland relations are difficult at present, as Israel views Ireland as very pro-Palestinian

Israel has denied the killing, with Israeli media claiming al-Mabhouh had many Arab enemies who could have killed him.

Iran and Hamas have blamed Israel.

al-Mabhouh's brother stated it was not the first attempt to kill him. Six months ago, he was in a coma and treated in Dubai for poisoning.

Using Irish passports is nothing new in the Middle East. In 1986 US officials, including Oliver North, used Irish passports when traveling in the region offering arms for hostages in what became known as the Iran/Contra affair, which deeply damaged Ronald Reagan's presidency.

Mourners at the funeral of Mahmoud al Mabhouh near Damascus