Druze protest
Druze protesting on Route 70, near Yokneam, in May. Photo by Tomer Neuberg
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A delegation of Druze officials from Israel arrived in Beirut on Monday to attend a regional conference of leaders from the religious community sponsored by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.

Israel bans its citizens from visiting "enemy" states such as Lebanon as Israel remains technically in a state of war with it.

The Israeli Druze leaders, mostly sheikhs and religious leaders from northern villages in the the Galilee, departed Saturday for Jordan, and continued to Lebanon through Syria.

The 30-member delegation said in a statement published Monday that it had not received permission to travel to Lebanon from the government or from the Interior Ministry.

The delegation said it had sent a request to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to Interior Minister Eli Yishai, which went unanswered. However, Galilee police summoned one of the Druze leaders, Sheikh Aouni Khanifas, for questioning over allegations he was organizing a trip to an enemy state.

The sheikh insisted the delegation would attend the conference, which is gathering Druze religious and spiritual from 35 countries around the world, in order to maintain ties with international members of its faith.

The conference, which lasts from Monday until Thursday, will reportedly address the needs of Druze communities worldwide and urge Druze expatriates to invest in economic, social and humanitarian projects in Lebanon.

The delegation also said they did not appeal to the High Court of Justice for travel permits because that would have delayed their arrival. The religious leaders are scheduled to meet Lebanese Druze leaders and senior Druze leadership from around the world. They will also visit Druze holy sites in Lebanon.

The Israeli Druze leaders also said that Jordan and Syria made great efforts to ease the delegation's entry into Lebanon, and sent telegrams thanking Syrian President Bashar Assad and Jordan's King Abdullah for their cooperation and VIP treatment.

The Israeli delegation, comprising of sheikhs and spiritual leaders, is likely to face police questioning and legal hurdles upon returning to Israel.

Earlier this year, the High Court of Justice lifted a ban on Israeli-Arab author Ala Hlehel from traveling to Beirut to receive a literary prize, despite objections from Netanyahu and Yishai.