DIPLOMATIC relations with Israel came under further strain last night, following a government decision to upgrade the Palestinian delegation in Dublin to the status of a mission.
The move, which stops short of granting full diplomatic privileges and immunities, was made by the Government in its dying days at a Cabinet meeting yesterday.
It followed a proposal from Taoiseach Brian Cowen, acting as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Similar upgrades to Palestinian delegations have been announced in recent months by Spain, France and Portugal.
Confirming the upgrade, a Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said the Palestinian diplomatic representation would now be known as the Palestinian "mission," instead of the previous Palestinian "delegation".
Palestinian Delegate General, Dr Kikmat Ajjuri's title will also be amended to "ambassador, head of mission".
The spokeswoman said the move was to recognise progress being made by the Palestinian Authority in building up the institutions of a Palestinian state.
The move is certain to put further pressure on diplomatic relations between Ireland and Israel -- already strained following the recent fake passport scandal.
Last year, the Government expelled an Israeli embassy official over the use of a number of forged Irish passports by suspects involved the killing of a Hamas official in Dubai.
At the time, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said investigations by the UK and Australian authorities had concluded that there were "compelling reasons" to believe Israel was responsible for the counterfeiting of passports used by the hit team.
Last night it was reported that Israel had harshly criticised Ireland for upgrading the Palestinian delegation in Dublin.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor was quoted as saying that this was in line with Ireland's "long-time" bias in the Middle East.
Palmor said Israel regretted the Irish decision, "though it comes as no surprise as it is line with Ireland's long-time biased policy in the Middle East".
He said the step would "only strengthen Palestinian rejection of returning to direct dialogue and peace talks".