Lebanon busts Israeli spy ring

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Lebanon busts Israeli spy ring

Paranoia and fear are on everyone's mind in southern Lebanon where dozens of people have been detained in recent weeks on suspicion of spying for neighbouring Israel.
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If someone falls ill and doesn't show up to work, we all wonder whether he's been arrested for spying. Two policemen showed up at someone's house recently for a minor offence and rumour quickly spread that he was a collaborator

Mohammed, who owns a garage in the town of Marjayoun, located near the border with Israel, told AFP.

So far, 21 people have been charged with spying on behalf of the Jewish state and several dozen more have been detained, including an army colonel and a retired general.

Officials say the probe into the spy networks, which comes as the country prepares for elections on June 7, is far from over with more arrests expected.

Anyone convicted of high treason faces up to life in prison or even capital punishment in Lebanon, which is still technically at war with Israel.

In villages and towns across the south of the country, the spy scandal has hit hard and prompted a collective paranoia with everyone looking over their shoulder, suspicious of their neighbour.

Robert Kfoury, a resident of Marjayoun who is in the construction business, was considered by his neighbours a regular family man.

That's until his arrest in April on spying charges.

Standing on the balcony of his two-storey modest home surrounded by citrus and fruit trees, his wife refuses to discuss his case.

"Robert has nothing to do with all this," she shouts. "All of these accusations are false."

His neighbours, however, say news of his arrest had cleared up many unanswered questions.

"In 2006, during the war between Hezbollah and Israel, the entire neighbourhood was destroyed except for Robert's house," said Noha Hammoud. "What a coincidence!"

Several other neighbours interviewed said they were baffled by his actions.

"I can understand someone collaborating with the enemy when we were under occupation," said one man who did not wish to be identified. "But doing this now, that's unacceptable."

Further south, in the village of Qolayaa, residents are still stunned by allegations that one of their own, Elie El-Hayek, was an Israeli spy.

Officials say El-Hayek, a 51-year-old maths teacher, fled to Israel with his wife and three children last week fearing his cover had been blown.

The front door of his house, which sits on the edge of the village, is padlocked.

"He rented the house two and a half years ago," said one neighbour. "He would say 'hi' and I would chat sometimes with his wife Therese but they never invited me into their home.

"No one suspected him because he was disabled and couldn't walk."

Richard, who runs a convenience store in the village, said he still had a hard time believing the accusations.

"I almost have a feeling that this whole thing was made up," he said, asking that his last name be withheld. "Why now? For nine years nothing was uncovered and all of a sudden we have spies all over the place."

In the village of Ghandouriyeh, the only conversation these days is about Nasser Nader, the local boy turned "enemy number one".

According to press reports, Nader supplied Israel with information on Hezbollah officials and positions.

"If any of it is true, I will disown him forever," said his half-brother Mohamed Nader, the village mayor. "He has smeared the family's reputation and I am ready to kill him with my own hands."

On Tuesday security sources revealed that a Lebanese Army colonel has been detained on suspicion of spying for Israel.

Lebanese Army Colonel Mansour Diab, who has been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel, was "modest," "brilliant," and "loved," according to colleagues in the military community.

The sources said the colonel was arrested last week and was being questioned about links to Israeli spy agencies.

The investigation focused on how Diab, a resident of Antelias, was recruited to work for the Israeli secret service, Mossad, and what tasks where given to him.

Diab fought in the army's battle against the Al-Qaeda inspired Fatah al-Islam militant group in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in the summer of 2007. He was wounded in his left shoulder during the fighting.

Investigations with Diab primarily focus on uncovering how the army colonel was recruited by the Mossad, and whether he traveled regularly abroad to meet with Israeli officers. The investigation also wants to know the nature of the tasks Israelis assigned Dib.

Diab, who hails from the northern town of Idbil in the Akkar Province, is married and has a daughter and a son. They said he joined the Lebanese Forces in the early 1980s before joining the military academy in 1983.

Hi-tech communication devices - similar to those seized from other Israeli espionage cell members arrested in southern and eastern Lebanon as well as Beirut suburbs - were confiscated from Diab's house.

It said Diab's involvement as a Mossad agent was a "great shock" to the Lebanese military command.

Meanwhile, a senior security source said that several army officers have undergone investigation "designed to determine the nature of their relations with the detained colonel."

The source said Diab underwent interrogation in 1997 over a picture taken during a military training program in the United States showing him standing alongside Israeli officers.

As-Safir said Diab's opening to Israel likely took place in the first half of the 1990s.

On Tuesday, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) Information Department arrested three more suspected spies in two separate Palestinian refugee camps in the southern, coastal city of Sidon. Collaborating with the Palestinian police, the ISF apprehended Samir al-Hajj and Abu Hani Farhan in the Ain al-Hilweh camp and Khaled al-Qun in Mieh Mieh.

Also Tuesday, a police patrol raided the house of a man identified as Raymond Q. from the southern border town of Rmeish and confiscated equipment. No other details were given.

Raymond is the brother of Tanios Q. who fled to Israel last week along with his family.

Lebanon says at least two spies fled to Israel last week and has demanded Israel hand them back.

Also on suspicion of spying for Israel, security forces raided the house of a customs officer identified as Hashem A. in al-Khodr village in Baalbek overnight Monday and arrested him.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Lebanon's Hizbullah movement, last week called for the death penalty for all suspects convicted of spying for Israel.

Senior Lebanese security officials say the arrests have dealt a major blow to Israel's spying networks in Lebanon.



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By netchicken: posted on 28-5-2009

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