Tennis Star Surrounded by Guards in Dubai

The people suspected of killing senior Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh disguised themselves as tennis players so they could move freely between hotels, the Dubai police claimed yesterday.

As they made the announcement, Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer, 22, was in Dubai - undisguised - to take part in the Dubai Championships.

Mabhouh was murdered in Dubai last month.

Peer, who is ranked 22nd worldwide, played her first match yesterday against 15th-seeded Yanina Wichmayer of Belgium for a 6-3, 2-6, 5-7 win.

"It was a very important victory for me," said Peer, flanked by a large contingent of bodyguards, after the game. "I felt very proud to be representing Israel in a country that does not recognize it."

Peer faced the complex diplomatic situation with her usual aplomb. "I get a lot of support from Israel and that's important to me," she said. "The attitude to me here is very warm and I feel quite safe."

To further Peer's sense of safety, the tournament organizers closed off the entire floor of her hotel and restricted her to either the hotel or the court.

Later yesterday, Peer also won her doubles match. The twin victories mean she will be extending her stay in Dubai, so security will remain high.

Last year, just 24 hours before Peer was to have arrived in Dubai for the tournament, she was denied a visa. The move raised hackles in the World Tennis Association, which slapped the organizers with a $300,000 fine, the highest ever in an international tournament. Of that sum, Peer received $44,250. She was also assured entry to this year's tournament.

A month ago, in Auckland, New Zealand, 10 protesters called for Peer's ouster from the competition and a boycott of Israel. Two weeks later, ahead of the Australian Open, a pro-Palestinian group showed a picture of her in army uniform with the slogan "Shahar Peer serves apartheid Israel."