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      Druze Men Convicted of Spying for Syria

      Two Druze residents of the Golan have been sentenced for spying on behalf of Syria.
      By Maayana Miskin
      First Publish: 2/12/2009, 4:53 PM

      Two Druze men from the Golan were sentenced Thursday to prison time for spying on behalf of Syria. The two, 57-year-old Yusef Salah Shams of Majdal Shams and 37-year-old Ata Najib Farhat of Bukata, were sentenced to four and three years in prison respectively, and each was also punished with a fine.

      Shams and Farhat were arrested in July of 2007, but the affair was not released for publication until Thursday, after the Hebrew-language Yediot Acharanot submitted a legal request for information.

      According to the court documents, Shams was the first to make contact with Syrian agents, after meeting a Syrian captain while he oversaw the government-authorized transfer of apples from Druze communities in the Golan to Syria. The contact began in June of 2006.

      Shams told the captain about IDF positions in the Golan, troop movements and any unusual IDF activity he witnessed, and identified the units participating in various exercises. He also passed on information regarding border security.

      Farhat soon joined Shams, and the two worked together to provide the captain with information. Farhat was convicted of passing on information regarding Druze residents of the Golan who oppose the Syrian regime and who have taken part in demonstrations calling to maintain Israeli sovereignty in the area.

      Both men confessed to the charges against them as part of a plea bargain. The two might otherwise have faced much longer sentences – the crimes committed by Shams bore a maximum sentence of life in prison, while Farhat's crimes carried a sentence of up to 15 years in jail.

      The two argued that they had no intention of harming Israel, and claimed that the contact with the Syrian captain had taken place as part of their commercial ties. Farhat said he had gathered information on anti-Syrian Druze protesters as part of his work as a journalist.

      Judges Chaim Galpaz, Ester Hellman and Yitzchak Cohen of the Nazareth District Court explained in their verdict that Shams and Farhat had not made a significant effort to gather information, and had simply told the officer what they already knew about Israel's defenses. However, the importance of the information the two passed along should not be underestimated, the judges qualified, noting that the incident may have undermined Israel's security.

      The Northern District Prosecutor recommended that the State Prosecutor appeal the three- and four-year sentences, according to Ynet. Prosecutors had asked for the men to be sentenced to 15 years in prison.