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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Israeli officer held as 'Hezbollah spy'
Israeli troops deployed to the border with Lebanon
The soldier is accused of revealing troop deployments
A lieutenant-colonel in the Israeli army has been arrested on charges of spying for the Lebanese Muslim guerrilla group Hezbollah, according to reports from Israel.

A Hezbollah guerrilla guards a water plant in Lebanon
Hezbollah attacks have targeted the border area
The officer is accused of having passed information to Hezbollah on Israeli military deployments on the northern border with Lebanon in exchange for money and drugs, an Israeli radio report said.

That border has been the site for Hezbollah attacks against Israel in recent years.

The BBC's Jim Fish in Jerusalem said local media reported that the officer was arrested with a number of civilians.

Our correspondent said security sources were describing the affair as "extremely serious" given the nature of the allegations and the comparatively high rank of the officer involved.

The Israeli army responded to queries on the report with a terse "no comment".

The AFP news agency reported the arrested man was an Israeli Bedouin.

Allegations denied

Amnon Zichroni, the officer's lawyer, said an indictment would be filed in a military court charging the colonel with espionage and drug dealing.

The Associated Press news agency reported that Mr Zichroni said his client, whose name and role in the army have been banned from publication, has denied the allegations.

An Israeli soldier at the border with Lebanon
Israel occupied southern Lebanon for 20 years
He said the officer was arrested six weeks ago in an operation that netted another nine suspects. No information was available about them.

In June, Israeli intelligence officers arrested an Israeli citizen of Lebanese descent on suspicion of spying for Hezbollah, which has declared itself the sworn enemy of Israel.

The group - one of the region's leading radical Islamic movements which has openly embraced the Palestinian cause - rose to prominence in the 1980s in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Correspondents say its experience has inspired Palestinian militants since Israel ended its two-decade occupation of Lebanon in May 2000.

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The BBC's Jim Fish reports from Jerusalem
"People here in Israel can't recall a similar case"

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