Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 18:04 UK

Israeli accused of Hezbollah plot

Rawi Sultani in court
Rawi Sultani maintains he is innocent of the charges against him

An Arab man, who belonged to the same Tel Aviv health club as the Israeli armed forces chief, has been accused of assisting in a plot to assassinate him.

Prosecutors say Rawi Sultani told Hezbollah about Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, as it sought to avenge the killing of its military commander Imad Mughniyeh.

Mr Sultani admits talking to people who may have been in the Lebanese militant group, but denies any role in a plot.

About one fifth of Israel's population are Arabs of Palestinian descent.

Israeli Arabs frequently claim their community is subject to political persecution, while Israeli Jews often voice suspicion about the loyalty of the Arab minority to the Israeli state.

Moroccan trip

Mr Sultani was arrested on 10 August but the case was subject to a court-imposed news black-out until his indictment on Monday.

The indictment against Mr Sultani, 23, alleges he agreed to give information to a Hezbollah agent he met at a summer camp in Morocco.

He is also accused of meeting another agent in Poland where he supplied details about the health club and information on Gen Ashkenazi's bodyguard.

He was allegedly given secure communications software to keep in touch after he returned home to Israel.

Gen Gabi Ashenazi
Questions about Gen Ashkenazi's security have been raised recently

Mr Sultani's father, lawyer Fuad Sultani, who is defending him, said his son "thoughtlessly" mentioned he worked out at the same club as Mr Ashkenazi while he was in Morocco.

He said he was not aware the men he met were Hezbollah agents.

"He bragged that he knew the chief of staff, or sees him, and that's why someone tried to exploit him... [it was] cynical exploitation of my son's naivety," he said in court.

The Arab political party Balad, which is named in the charges as having funded the Morocco trip, reacted angrily to the news.

"This experience shows us how the police and security services exaggerate this type of incident. Sultani has the right to be presumed innocent," Balad said in a statement, that distanced the party from the offences on the indictment.

Correspondents say the allegations raise further questions about Lt Gen Ashkenazi's security, two weeks after it was disclosed that his credit card details and a gun in his office had been stolen by a soldier.

Hezbollah blamed Israel for killing Mughniyeh in Damascus in February 2008 and vowed revenge, but Israel has never acknowledged involvement.

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