May 19, 2009
2 Lebanese, Suspected of Spying, Escape to Israel
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Two Lebanese men suspected of spying for Israel fled across the heavily fortified border to Israel on Monday, the second such escape since Lebanon stepped up a campaign of arrests against those thought to be spying, officials said.
Lebanese authorities arrested two other men over the weekend on suspicion of collaborating with Israel, raising to 15 the number of people arrested and accused of spying in the past few weeks, according to security officials.
Lebanon considers itself at war with Israel, and spying for or collaborating with Israel can be punishable by death.
The arrests, which took place primarily in southern Lebanon, appear to have singled out those suspected of gathering information about Hezbollah militants for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006 that left 1,200 people dead in Lebanon and 159 in Israel.
The two men who escaped to Israel on Monday crossed the border near the village of Yaroun with their children, a senior military official said. A man wanted by the Lebanese authorities escaped in a similar manner on May 5, according to a senior security official.
It was unclear how the men managed get past the border fence without setting off electronic alarms that have alerted Israelis to similar crossings in the past. Lebanese citizens who try to sneak into Israel are normally detained, questioned and sent back to Lebanon.
There was no immediate word from Israel, which has declined to comment on the recent espionage accusations.
The weekend arrests took place in southern Lebanon and the eastern Bekaa Valley, according to the security officials, who said suspicious transmission devices were seized in related raids.
The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the news media.
Nine of the 15 people arrested in recent weeks have been charged with collaborating with Israel. They include a retired general, along with his wife and his nephew, and a government security agent.
The leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said in a televised speech on Monday that his guerrillas would be on high alert during coming Israeli military maneuvers.
Although Sheik Nasrallah said the five-day maneuvers would begin May 31, Israeli defense officials said Friday that no date had been set yet for the United States-Israeli war games, which take place every two years. The Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said the exercises would include testing antimissile systems.