(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Lebanese deputy mayor who has been arrested for alleged involvement in a network accused of spying for Israel has admitted that he received orders from the Mossad last year to get close to the Hizbullah-led opposition and its leadership, the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported on Wednesday.
According to the report, Ziad Homsi, the deputy mayor of Saadnayel, a town with some 8,500 inhabitants in the Bekaa Valley, resumed communication with old contacts from the nationalist and Nasserist movements and asked one of them to pass on a message to Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah that "he was absolutely committed to the resistance option" and was ready to become a martyr for the cause.
Homsi told his interrogators he was asked by Israeli intelligence officials to request an appointment with Nasrallah himself, which he did, saying he wanted to meet him for reasons he wished to keep private, the paper reported.
Homsi was instructed to report immediately to the Israeli officials once a time and place for the meeting was set. However, he never received a response to his request and the appointment was not set.
Meanwhile, the director-general of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces, Maj.-Gen. Ashraf Rifi, told As-Safir that preliminary investigations have shown that one of the "agents," Nasser Nader, has proven to be "a valuable catch" and could be the most important detainee from the spy network.
Rifi said Nader conducted surveys of Beirut's southern suburbs - a Hizbullah stronghold - and gathered coordinates for Israelis that may have been used during Israel's 2006 war with the Shi'ite group.
In addition to Homsi, several other agents tried to determine Nasrallah's location, Rifi told the Lebanese paper.
Rifi also said that "a large number of agents may have fled from Lebanon with the beginning of the collapse and dismantling of the networks."
Some may have simply left via the airport in a normal fashion before they became wanted, he said.
Two Lebanese men suspected of spying for the Jewish state fled across the border into Israel on Monday, according to Lebanese security officials. At least 15 suspected spies have been arrested in Lebanon in recent weeks, at least nine of whom have been charged with collaborating with Israel.
Those arrested include a retired general, his wife and nephew, and a government security agent. The spate of arrests has come just weeks before Lebanon's hotly contested parliamentary election, raising speculation that there could be a political dimension to the allegations.
Sources in Hizbullah have said the investigations could shed light on the perpetrators of the February 2008 assassination in Damascus of the organization's military chief Imad Mughniyeh, which the organization has vowed to revenge.
Lebanese leaders, including Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, say they plan to file a complaint with UNIFIL because they consider the alleged spy rings to be "a flagrant violation" of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, that ended the Second Lebanon War.
Saniora said on Tuesday that he considers these recent events to be "very important discoveries" and lauded "the effort and the role played by the security services and the military, despite skepticism about them," according to a report in Lebanon's An-Nahar newspaper on Wednesday.
According to a Hizbullah source quoted on the NOW Lebanon news site, Israeli intelligence officials committed "a terrible mistake" that has been exploited by Hizbullah's security apparatus to unravel the spy network.
"It does not appear until now that the Israelis are able to determine" the error, the source said.
"They are very confused by the rapidity of the collapse of these networks," which occurred before they had time to dismantle them, the source said.
As is customary with allegations of this kind, Israel has declined to comment.
AP contributed to this report.