Israeli Jailed for Spying for Hezbollah; Canada Bans Group

Tel Aviv's District Court on Wednesday sentenced an Israeli man of Lebanese origin to six years in prison for spying for Hezbollah. Nissim Nasser, 35, confessed to the espionage charges as part of a plea bargain deal.

Though the authorities have termed Nasser's case "a grave espionage affair," the convicted man's relations said Wednesday that the relatively light sentence illustrates that this was not a serious spy scandal.

Lebanon-born Nissim Nasser immigrated to Israel about 20 years ago, and was arrested some six months ago. Prosecutors charged that he had ties with a Hezbollah man in Lebanon, who asked for information regarding Israeli security matters.

Nasser's relations with the Hezbollah man were facilitated by his brother, who lives in Lebanon. Nasser was asked to supply maps of Tel Aviv that mark electricity and gas installations, to extract information from a top Israel Defense Forces officer, and to monitor IDF tank activity in an area near Ramallah.

Under the plea bargain deal, Nasser retracted his original denial of charges, and agreed to the six-year prison sentence. Prosecutors justified the deal partly by appealing to pressures faced by Shin Bet security service men - the need to appear in court, they said, would detract from the Shin Bet agent's work on urgent security matters. Also, prosecutors added, Nasser derived his information from publicly available materials, not classified sources.

Through his defense attorney, Nasser claimed that he acted to "protect his family" in Lebanon from Hezbollah pressure.

When Nasser's arrest was announced, Hezbollah denied having ties with him. Lebanon's army said it had no information on him.

Canada bans Hezbollah military wing, totally outlawing group Canada slapped a total ban on Hezbollah on Wednesday after the Lebanese guerrilla group urged Palestinians to carry out more suicide attacks in Israel. Ottawa also outlawed two other militant organizations.

Hezbollah's military wing was banned in late 2001 but for many months Ottawa resisted pressure to outlaw the political wing, which Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham described as a legitimate political and social movement.

The government changed its mind after Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah urged Palestinians late last month to ignore international criticism of suicide attacks and keep up the armed struggle against Israel.

"I think this will be sending a signal to Hezbollah that its affirmation of the use of terrorism as an international instrument is not acceptable," Graham told reporters.

Solicitor-General Wayne Easter said Hezbollah, the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult had been added to Ottawa's list of banned organizations.

"The government of Canada has determined that these entities knowingly engaged in terrorist activity," he said. Ottawa has now banned a total of 16 groups.

A Hezbollah spokesman in Beirut declined to comment on the move.