Kill Khalid

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Paul McGeough, New Press, £13.99

This is the closest that political writing gets to a John le Carré thriller. Kill Khalid is a highly readable introduction to the politics of the Palestinian resistance, focusing on Hamas.

The book takes its title from the botched Israeli assassination attempt in 1997 on Hamas activist Khalid Mishal, which effectively propelled him into the leadership of the resistance.

McGeough tells how Israel backed the Muslim Brotherhood in a bid to undermine Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. But the tactic backfired with the start of the first Intifada, or uprising, in 1987, during which Hamas came to the fore. In 1997 Israel tried to murder Khalid, the brains behind Hamas, in Damascus. Mossad agents posing as Canadian tourists used a camera to spray poison into his ear. But one of his bodyguards chased after them and the plot fell apart.

In a blind panic, Binyamin Netanyahu - the current Israeli prime minister who was also prime minister at the time - was forced to hand over the antidote to the poison.

The book takes us through all the major events of the past 20 years in Palestine - although sadly it ends before the latest Israeli invasion of 2008-9 - each described from the inside on the basis of extensive interviews with Khalid and other key figures. McGeough is an Australian journalist specialising in the region, and his gripping, fast-moving account is full of colourful detail about the cauldron of Middle East politics.