Lebanon Arrests Shiite Sheikh Suspected of Spying for Israel

Sheikh known to be critical of Hezbollah and its backers Syria and Iran; arrest marks first high-profile detention in recent months.

Lebanese military intelligence has detained a Shiite sheikh in southern Lebanon on suspicion of spying for Israel, a security source said on Tuesday.

The sheikh, who was known to be critical of Shiite guerrilla group Hezbollah and its regional backers, Syria and Iran, was arrested in the southern port city of Tyre on Monday.

He ran an organization called the Arab-Islamic Resistance which he said had 1,500 fighters, the security source said. The sheikh also claimed responsibility for launching rockets toward Israel two years ago, the source said.

The arrest was the first high-profile detention in recent months. Lebanon launched a wave of arrests in April 2009 as part of espionage investigation in which dozens have been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel. A high-ranking army officer, a Christian party member and telecom firm employees were among those detained over the last year.

President Michel Suleiman has called for severe punishment for the spies and said if he receives a death sentence verdict he would sign it. Seven people have received a death sentence in the last few months.

Israel has not commented on any of the arrests.

Security officials say the arrests have severely weakened Israel's spying networks in Lebanon.

Hezbollah and Israel fought an inconclusive war in 2006 and while the border has remained largely quiet, there have been two instances of violence along the frontier since August 2010.