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Hezbollah in airport spying row

By Jim Muir
BBC News, Beirut

Jordanian transport plane lands at Beirut airport. File pic
The airport is in a suburb controlled by Hezbollah

A fierce political row has broken out in Lebanon over claims that the radical Shia movement, Hezbollah, secretly filmed aircraft at Beirut's airport.

Heads of the Western-backed government accused Hezbollah of preparing for some kind of terrorist attack.

Hezbollah dismissed the accusations as scare mongering.

The exchanges reflect the divisions that have paralysed Lebanon for eight months and left the country without a president for much of that time.

Arab League visit

The allegation levelled by leaders of the government is that Hezbollah set up a hidden, remote-controlled camera in a container park overlooking the main runway of Beirut's international airport.

A newspaper that supports the government, an-Nahar, published documents in which the Lebanese Army's intelligence agency purportedly confirms that the camera was spotted in the last week of April, apparently directed at the runway, but was removed by three men in civilian clothing before it could be impounded.

The accusation is that the radical Shia movement, which controls the suburbs where the airport is located, was spying on air traffic in preparation for a possible attack, perhaps aimed at assassinating one of the prominent pro-government figures who fly in and out of the facility.

Hezbollah ridiculed the charges, saying that those who levelled them were simply parroting a US campaign against it and other groups which are resisting Israel.

Hezbollah and its supporters accused the government of scare mongering in order to torpedo a political settlement and scare Arab and other summer visitors into staying away.

These bitter exchanges came as the Arab League's secretary-general, Amr Moussa, was on yet another visit to Beirut to try to promote reconciliation and an understanding that would allow the election of a president, a job that has been vacant since last November.

Once again, it looks as though Mr Moussa is leaving empty-handed.


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