NZ quake may have revealed Israeli spy ring

Rescue workers search for victims buried under the rubble near the Canterbury Television building in Christchurch, New Zealand, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. AP Photo

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - A New Zealand newspaper group is reporting that the deadly February 22nd earthquake in Christchurch unearthed a suspected Israeli spy ring.

Three Israelis died in the quake that killed 181 people. Other Israelis escaped the quake.

The Fairfax newspaper group, which didn't state how it obtained the information, said one of the Israelis who died was carrying at least five passports.

Fairfax said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key took four calls from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the quake, and that an unaccredited Israeli search and rescue squad searching a cordoned area in Christchurch was stopped by New Zealand officers.

NZ leader: Israeli spy ring report unfounded

Key, who is traveling in California, told media Wednesday that it wasn't in the national interest to comment about the report.

The revelation has caused a bit of a political kerfuffle, as opposition party leaders have begun directing pointed public questions at the prime minister.

"Were these young people really just backpackers? Or had an innocent group of tourists been infiltrated by Mossad 'helpers' whose mission it was to take Kiwi identities? If it was the latter, why hasn't the Opposition been briefed (by the prime minister)? What information is he withholding and why?" asked Labour's Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maryan Street, according to The New Zealand Herald.

In 2004, there was a bit of a dustup between Israel and New Zealand over an Israeli passport ring uncovered in New Zealand. Two Israelis were arrested for trying to fraudulently acquire the identity of a man with cerebral palsy, the Herald reports.

Contacts between Israel and New Zealand were frozen at a high level until the Jewish state apologized. It was also discovered at the time that similar such instances had happened previously, the Herald reports.

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