BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces have arrested two more people suspected of spying for Israel, bringing the total number of suspected collaborators detained since the beginning of the year to 16. A police statement published late on Monday said Lebanese policeman Haissam al-Sahmarani and his wife were arrested during a raid on their house in Beirut's Bourj al-Barajneh neighborhood on Sunday evening.
Sahmarani confessed to police that he and his wife had been working for Mossad, Israel's secret service organization, for the last five years, collecting information on the activities of Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and other senior officials. The policeman also said he made frequent trips to "nearby countries" to hand over information, the statement said.
Three unidentified suspects were also detained Sunday, AFP reported, quoting a security official. They were arrested in the village of Habboush in Southern Lebanon, and according to the security official, "initial indications show that they were spying for Israel."
The arrests are the latest in a concerted, high-profile campaign launched by Lebanon's security forces to break up spy cells monitoring Hizbullah operations on behalf of Mossad. The suspects, identified in media reports as "hostess" Elizabeth H., Ali A. and Hussein K., were allegedly captured while traveling in the same car.
According to security officials quoted in Al-Hayat newspaper, the three individuals are being held by Hizbullah, who will turn them over to national security officials after preliminary interrogations.
On April 25, two Lebanese and a Palestinian arrested on suspicion of espionage were connected to a retired security officer arrested on similar charges earlier that month.
Brigadier General Adib al-Alam was charged along with his wife Hayat Saloumi and nephew Joseph, a sergeant in General Security, with espionage. Alam is said to have been in possession of sophisticated espionage equipment, including one device that was disguised as a mini-bar in his home. He is also accused of helping his nephew acquire a key posting at the Israeli-Lebanon border crossing in Nabatiyeh for intelligence activities, and of using his office, offering the services of migrant domestic workers, as a front for covert operations.
The Palestinian, Mohammad Awad, used his car dealership in South Lebanon to spy on Hizbullah activities. Curiously, Awad is said to be the cousin of Abu Mohammad Awad, the fugitive head of Islamist group Fatah al-Islam. The group, which based itself at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, engaged the Lebanese Armed Forces in three months of deadly fighting in 2007 that reduced the camp to rubble. Awad was the second car dealer in the area to be detained after Marwan Fakih was arrested in February for supplying Hizbullah members with cars equipped with tracking devices being monitored by Mossad.
In a letter on Monday to head of the Internal Security Forces, Colonel Wissam al-Hassan, Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud praised Lebanon's intelligence services, saying the spy-ring bust had shown their high level of professionalism.
Some media reports have shown more skepticism, however, with some suggesting the news of the spy rings was timed to offset political fallout from Egyptian accusations that Hizbullah members were planning attacks in the Sinai Delta, which first emerged in April.
Israeli officials have not yet remarked on the arrests. Although hostilities have subsided since the summer 2006 war, Lebanon and Israel technically remain at war, and Lebanon forbids its citizens from any contact with Israelis. Those convicted of espionage can be handed down the death penalty.