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Four Druze men from the Galilee and Carmel have been arrested for allegedly smuggling arms into Israel from Lebanon.

The four were remanded almost two months ago, but details of the case were released for publication only yesterday after the Haifa District Court accepted a petition by Ha'aretz to lift a gag order.

The suspects, all members of the same family, served in the Israel Defense Forces, some even in combat units. The four were identified as Latif Abu Latif, Loay Abu Latif and Alla Abu Latif from the Galilee village of Rama, and Alla's brother-in-law Roni Mazhar from Daliat el Carmel. An additional suspect, a fifth member of the Abu Latif family, is wanted by the police and is still at large.

The four, through their Acre lawyer Zaid Falah, deny all allegations.

The arrests were the result of an investigation by the Shin Bet security service and the North District Police, and the charge sheet reveals new methods used by Hezbollah to smuggle arms into Israel.

The four are known to the police for drug smuggling, and the indictment states that in May 2000, around the time Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, Alla Abu Latif contacted a Lebanese drug dealer to smuggle drugs and gold into Israel.

The Shin Bet and Israel Police believe that Hezbollah, which took control of the border area following the withdrawal, has told drug dealers on both sides of the border that it will allow smuggling to continue as long as weapons are also smuggled into Israel.

The Lebanese connection contacted Abu Latif early this year, telling him that another Lebanese citizen with links to Hezbollah would help him smuggle drugs across the border as long as he agreed to smuggle weapons into Israel.

The indictment states that Alla Abu Latif brought Latif Abu Latif and Mazhar into the deal. Mazhar, who believed he was smuggling in gold, traveled to the border and threw a package of money onto the Lebanese side. In return, he picked up three parcels.

Alla Abu Latif then picked Mazhar up at the border, and the three drove to Latif Abu Latif's home where they opened the packages in front of Loay Abu Latif, a third brother.

The packages contained guns and silencers, though the indictment does not specify the exact contents.

An additional eight or nine packages were brought over the border in May which included two kilograms of cocaine and five kilograms of hashish, four M-16s, four Claymore anti-personnel bombs, guns, mechanisms for activating bombs and a mortar.

The suspects hid the weapons in the village until they were contacted by the Lebanese drug dealer, who told Alla Abu Latif to get in touch with an Israeli-Arab who would deliver the arms to the territories. The plan, however, was never put into action.

Upon being arrested on September 26, Alla Abu Latif immediately told investigators where the arms were hidden. He and his brother Latif are charged with contact with a foreign agent. All four are charged with importing arms without a license and importing and trafficking in dangerous drugs.

The four claimed in court yesterday they had been set up by Hezbollah, and denied the charges of drug smuggling, saying they had wanted to import gold from Lebanon. They said that once they realized they were bringing in arms, they stopped the deals - though they could not answer the court's question why they did not immediately report it to the police.

Details of the affair were released to news agencies on Sunday after the police asked the Nazareth District Court to lift a gag order on the investigation.

However, while the indictment against the four was being read at the Haifa District Court, attorney Shelly Ze'evi of the Haifa District Prosecutor's Office asked that the debate be held in camera to conceal the Shin Bet's methods. In addition, defense attorney Falah asked that a gag order be issued to protect his clients' identities.

Both requests were accepted, and as a result, foreign press agencies carried details of the case, including a statement from the Government Press Office, as did Israeli Radio and Internet sites, however, the press was prohibited from publishing details.