May 2, 2007 / 1:06 PM / 13 years ago

Israel accuses Israeli-Arab ex-lawmaker of treason

By Ori Lewis

JERUSALEM, May 2 (Reuters) - Israel has accused a former Israeli-Arab lawmaker of treason for helping the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah aim rockets at Israeli targets during last year’s war, a police spokesman said on Wednesday.

Azmi Bishara, who resigned his post last month and has left the country, could face a maximum life sentence if found guilty. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Israeli police said they suspected Bishara of committing acts of treason and espionage, and of violating laws that bar Israelis from receiving or providing funds from Hezbollah and other groups.

Under Israeli law, those convicted of treason during wartime can face a death sentence but that punishment has never been carried out.

Bishara has yet to be formally indicted. Many of the details about the allegations had been kept secret under a court order until now.

Bishara, who headed the anti-Zionist party Balad, recently told Arab television networks that he did not have direct contact with Hezbollah, which Israel considers an enemy.

In Wednesday’s disclosure, the police said Bishara received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash through money changers in exchange for providing Hezbollah with information.

Police said he provided Hezbollah with precise locations of strategic targets in Israel before and during last year’s 34-day war in which the group fired more than 4,000 rockets.

"The main suspicions centre around direct connections with Hezbollah which include advising them how to cause deeper strategic damage to Israel," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, adding Bishara also provided the group with information about the Israeli army that he knew to be classified.

The Israeli security services received special permission from the high court to tap Bishara’s telephone despite his immunity as a member of parliament.

Rosenfeld said Bishara had been questioned twice by police before he left Israel in March and early April.

Bishara has been travelling in nearby Arab states since leaving Israel last month. Rosenfeld said he would be arrested if he returned. It was not immediately clear whether Israel would issue an international arrest warrant for Bishara.

Bishara’s Balad party holds three of the 120 seats in the Israeli parliament.

Its call for Israel to cease being defined as a Jewish state and for Palestinians to achieve statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip resonates with many Israeli Arabs, who complain of discrimination by the Jewish majority.

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