3 Israeli-Arabs charged with espionage

Syria's FM protests arrests; urges UN to intervene.

majdal shams 298.88 (photo credit: GPO)
majdal shams 298.88
(photo credit: GPO)
Three Arab residents of the North have been indicted on several espionage-related charges, police reported after a gag order on the case was lifted on Thursday.
The suspects – Fada Sha’ar, 27, and his father, Majad Sha’ar, 58 – are both residents of the Golan Druse village of Majdal Shams, while Mahmud Masrawa lives in Baka al-Gharbiya.
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The indictment, which was read out in the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, includes charges of espionage, aggravated espionage, contacting a foreign agent, passing information to the enemy, conspiracy to kidnap, entry into a closed military zone, and contacting a foreign agent with the intention of harming state security. The court extended the suspects’ remands by three weeks, until the next hearing.
The kidnapping conspiracy charge stems from a plan to kidnap a Baka al-Gharbiya man they mistakenly believed was Bassam Adel, a Syrian Mig-23 pilot who defected to Israel in 1989 with his fighter bomber.
After his landing, which took Israeli authorities by surprise, Adel immediately requested asylum and has been living in an undisclosed location in Israel ever since.
The three men are also suspected of making a number of videos of IDF facilities. They also reportedly shot footage of a power plant in Hadera and tracked the movements of Israel Navy submarines in Haifa.
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallam on Thursday night protested at the arrests, which he said were unjustified, and urged the UN to intervene over the affair.
The indictment details clandestine meetings and secret communiques between the defendants, beginning either in 2006 or 2007. According to the indictment, the three men began passing information at that time to Madhat Tzalach, a former resident of Majdal Shams who moved to Syria and now works for the government, where he has contacts in the state intelligence services.
According to prosecutors, at some point in either 2006 or 2007, Masrawa told the elder Sha’ar that he suspected that a man living in Baka al-Gharbiya was the pilot who defected in 1989. He allegedly asked Sha’ar to contact Tzalach, a childhood friend of Sha’ar’s wife. After initial contact was made, Masrawa and Sha’ar traveled to Jordan in June 2007, where they met in Amman with Tzalach and an unidentified Syrian agent. The two requested information on the pilot, to whom they referred as “the bride,” and hatched a plot to kidnap him and bring him to the Israel-Syria border fence, where Syrian agents would spirit him into the country, prosecutors say.
A few months later, Masrawa flew to Cairo. There, he allegedly met in a hotel with Tzalach and an additional Syrian agent, who asked him for information on military installations in Israel. Masrawa was also allegedly given a cellphone by the agent to continue communications, as well as between $700 and $1,000 for his efforts.
After Masrawa returned from Cairo, the indictment alleges, the elder Sha’ar traveled to a pharmacy in Nablus, where he bought Diazepam (also known as Valium) and syringes, to drug the man believed to be the pilot.
The indictment says that Fada Sha’ar maintained contact with Tzalach in Damascus, where he studied music between 2002 and 2008. Sha’ar is suspected of acting as a go-between for his father and Tzalach, whom he allegedly kept updated on the efforts to kidnap “the bride.”
Fada Sha’ar was arrested on July 10 at Ben-Gurion Airport immediately upon returning from a trip to Paris.
The indictment followed a lengthy investigation carried out by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Israel Police international crimes unit. When security forces came to Majdal Shams to search the Sha’ar family home on July 11, nearly 1,000 villagers surrounded it and prevented the officers from leaving. A police negotiation team was summoned, managing to speak with village leaders and diffuse the situation peacefully. While negotiations were under way, a large force of border patrolmen, riot police, and members of the YAMAM anti-terror unit were sent in case the talks failed.
On July 26, Majad Sha’ar’s wife Mona, 46, was arrested on suspicion of being linked to the affair. She was not mentioned in the indictment issued on Thursday.
Lawyers for the three men said their clients had denied the allegations against them. The lawyers criticized police for not allowing them to see the investigative material against their clients.
In Majdal Shams and the other three Druse villages of the Golan Heights, villagers consider themselves Syrian.