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Lebanese police detain Israeli man on suspicion of involvement in murder and espionage

An Israeli man arrested in Lebanon on suspicion of involvement in murder and espionage.

Daniel Sharon, 32, who holds German and Israeli citizenship, converted to Islam years ago and had a special passion for Lebanon - an enemy country where Israelis have been kidnapped and held in the past, they said.

Sharon is being interrogated by Lebanese military police, a Lebanese military official told The Associated Press on Sunday.

An Israeli government official insisted Sunday that Sharon was not working with Israeli authorities in any role. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomatic nature of the case.

Shaul Mofaz, Israel's transportation minister, told Israel Radio Sunday that Sharon entered Lebanon "on his own accord" and in doing so had "crossed the line" - a reference to the ban on Israelis visiting enemy countries.

The events leading to Sharon's arrest last Thursday began when authorities in Beirut questioned a Lebanese security agent in connection with the shooting death of the man's roommate, according to a report in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar.

The agent claimed to have been with a German friend at a Beirut hotel at the time of the killing. When authorities questioned the German friend, they discovered he was an Israeli who spoke Arabic and who had repeatedly visited Lebanon, the report said.

Sharon denied allegations he was spying for Israel, the reports said. He told police he visited Lebanon for tourism and that he was a homosexual who had relationships with Lebanese men, according to the reports.

Because the two countries are officially at war, any Israeli found in Lebanese territory would automatically be suspected of espionage, explaining Sharon's transfer to military police.

A friend of Sharon's, Maram Hamud, an Israeli Arab lawyer, dismissed the possibility that Sharon was spying for Israel.

Hamud described Sharon as someone who "loves Arabic and Islamic culture very much" and spends most of his time outside of Israel, mainly in the Gulf nation of Dubai.

Hamud said Sharon was the son of divorced parents, a homosexual who "feels comfortable" in Lebanon and who recently started going by the last name "Trabilsi" - meaning someone who hails from the Lebanese city of Tripoli.

"There is something childlike about him," Hamud said, explaining that children "do what they like to do, without giving it much thought. They're not calculated."

In October 2000, an Israeli reserve colonel, Elhanan Tannenbaum, was captured by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah after being lured to the Persian Gulf on a false passport. Tannenbaum, who later admitted he was involved in a drug deal through which he hoped to pay off his debts, was held for more than three years in Lebanon before being released in a prisoner swap.

Hezbollah is currently holding two Israeli soldiers it captured in July, 2006, in a raid that sparked a fierce monthlong conflict with Israel. The men's condition is unknown.

Sharon is being held by official Lebanese authorities, not by Hezbollah, making his prospects for good treatment far better.

Sharon's father, Moshe Sharon, told Israel's Army Radio on Sunday that his son had only good intentions.

Asked if Daniel was an Israeli spy, he said, "No, no, there is no chance. This boy doesn't even smoke, he doesn't drink, he's not a criminal."

Daniel was "childish" and it's possible that he could get mixed up "with the wrong people and didn't know what he was getting into," Sharon said.

Sharon, who said he had thought Daniel was in Cyprus, said he heard about his arrest in the media on Saturday and contacted Israel's Foreign Ministry and German authorities, because his son is German through his mother.

"We feel totally helpless because we're an enemy country, and there's nothing I can do besides receive information about him and let the authorities deal with it," Sharon said, adding he feared Daniel could be held in Lebanon for years.

Exceptional among Israeli Jews for his identification with Arab culture, a young Sharon was interviewed by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot in 1996, after his first visit to Lebanon.

In the article, Sharon said he had been in Beirut during an Israeli offensive against Hezbollah, and said he felt "disappointed" when he saw an Israeli assault helicopter flying overhead evade a Lebanese missile.

Photographed wearing an Arab headdress around his neck, Sharon recounted how he bought a copy of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, at age 16 and later converted to Islam. Disillusioned with Israeli policy, he said, he went AWOL from his Israeli combat engineering unit while doing compulsory military service and was discharged early after serving five months in an army jail.

"To a certain extent I feel I don't have any connection to Judaism, I'm Muslim," Sharon said.

He went to Jordan after the two countries signed a peace deal in 1994, and later traveled to Lebanon.

"I love the Lebanese. They're the most wonderful people in the Middle East," Sharon told the paper, praising Beirut's beaches and nightlife.

On Sunday, Israel's Foreign Ministry said only that it was looking into the matter. Germany's ambassador to Lebanon was in contact with Lebanese authorities about the case, a German Foreign Ministry official said on customary condition of anonymity.

During Israel's 18-year occupation of a border strip in southern Lebanon, Lebanese authorities arrested and jailed many people on charges of spying or working for Israel. Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2000.

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