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Israelis Plead Innocent to Spying

December 21, 1998

LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) _ Two Israelis charged with spying on Cyprus pleaded innocent today and will face trial next month in a case that has strained relations between the two countries.

Udi Hargov and Igal Damary were denied bail. Their trial was set to start on Jan. 20.

Israel denies they were spying on Cyprus on behalf of Turkey, but hasn’t said what their mission was.

However, it is believed to have been a bungled operation by Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, possibly related to anti-aircraft missiles the Greek-Cypriot government is planning to deploy on the island in the next few weeks.

Turkey, which has close military relations with Israel, has threatened to use force to prevent deployment of the Russian S-300 missiles, which the Greek-Cypriot government says it needs for self-defense.

The case has reportedly led to the resignation of the Mossad’s second-in-command.

Hargov, 37, and Damary, 49, were brought to court today handcuffed and guarded by armed members of the special police anti-terrorist squad. Neither spoke during the brief proceedings, except to plead innocent to three separate charges.

In addition to spying, they were charged with conspiring to commit a crime and with possessing scanning and recording equipment without a government license.

The two were arrested Nov. 6 at Zigi, a small fishing village on the southern coast of Cyprus next to an army camp and a military training area used for joint maneuvers with Greece in October.

They face a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres pleaded for their release during a visit to Cyprus last week, saying their case amounted to ``a mistake and not a crime.″

He implied their mission was connected to anti-terrorism activities, but refused to reveal its exact purpose.

Cyprus has been divided into a Greek Cypriot-controlled south and a Turkish-occupied north since 1974, when Turkey invaded following an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece.

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