BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami was forced Thursday to deny reports he labeled accusations of US eavesdropping operations in Lebanon as “exaggerated” and “not so serious.”
Shami was quoted in Lebanese daily As-Safir as saying that the US Embassy in Beirut had requested that Lebanon’s two largest telecommunications firms provide the diplomatic mission with customer information, including phone numbers.
The minister called the National News Agency (NNA) from Egypt to clarify the situation, refuting the paper’s claims that he downplayed the seriousness of allegations leveled against the US.
As-Safir reported that the US Embassy had lodged a request in April 2009, asking Internal Security Forces (ISF) officials to provide it with data on cellular networks in Lebanon.
The accusations prompted a severe reproach from Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who told supporters in his Monday speech that any information handed to the US administration would be tantamount to spying for Israel.
Hizbullah MP Nawaf Moussawi added to his superior’s comments on Tuesday, saying: “Every Lebanese and Arab must deal with holders of foreign passports as potential spies.”
As-Safir’s allegations come in the wake of the death of prominent Hamas member Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was assassinated in Dubai, allegedly at the hands of Israel’s Mossad, as well as the sentencing of several individuals accused of spying for Israel in Lebanon.
When contacted by The Daily Star, the US Embassy was unable to comment directly on As-Safir’s claims.
But a statement did address US interaction with the ISF.
“We have and continue to provide training and equipment to the ISF to help build their capabilities to protect and serve Lebanon’s citizens,” the statement said.
“It is easy to see why non-state actors in Lebanon would be uncomfortable with a strong and capable ISF.”