Israel charges two Druze, Arab Israeli with spying for Syria

Jerusalem–An Arab Israeli and two Druze residents of the occupied Golan Heights were charged on Thursday with spying for Syria and planning a kidnapping, Israeli officials said.

The three men were charged in a Nazareth court with "aggravated espionage," for allegedly passing information on Israeli submarine movements to Syrian intelligence and plotting to drug a Syrian pilot who had defected to Israel and spirit him over the border, according to court documents.

Fidaa al-Shaar and his father Majid al-Shaar from Majdal Shams in the Golan and Mahmud Massaweh from the northern Israeli village of Baka al-Gharbiyeh were "charged with spying and having contact with the enemy," police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told AFP.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, in a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, rejected the charges against the two Druze.

"The arrests in Majdal Shams… on fabricated accusations are an Israeli attempt to terrorise" the Golan's inhabitants, Muallem charged, calling for the release of all Syrians held in Israeli jails.

Ran Balter, an official from the Israeli public prosecutor's office, said the accused had been remanded in custody until further notice.

"At some stage in 2007 or 2006, contact was made between one of them and a Syrian government official," he told Israel public radio, saying Fidaa al-Shaar had "transmitted messages" while studying in Syria.

His father had held several meetings in Jordan and Turkey, and co-defendant Massaweh had meetings in Jordan and Cairo over the course of three years, Balter said.

He said the defendants communicated from abroad via video calls and instant messaging and had used special code words like "the bride" and "the shark."

"The bride is the man they thought was the pilot, the shark was reports on the submarine," he said, saying police had found syringes and substances with which to anaesthetise the pilot who defected to Israel in 1989 with his MiG fighter.

"The evidence is very strong — there are confessions," he said.

However, a lawyer for the two Golan residents denied his clients had confessed to espionage.

"They admit contact with this agent, but he is not an agent, he is an old family friend that moved back to Syria and now works for Syrian government," Nabih Khanjar told AFP.

However, "it is possible that this friendship was manipulated to get information from them without their knowledge," Khanjar said.

Police arrested Fidaa al-Shaar in Majdal Shams on 12 July, but all details about his arrest and those of the other two were initially the subject of a court-issued gag order.

Majdal Shams is the main town on the Golan Heights which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. Damascus demands a total Israeli withdrawal as the price for a peace settlement.

Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan in 1981. The vast majority of its 18,000 Syrian inhabitants, mostly Druze, remaining from the Golan's original population of 150,000 have refused to take Israeli citizenship.

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