JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel accused Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas and Iran on Sunday of plotting to attack its citizens in Cyprus after police on the Mediterranean island arrested a foreigner on suspicion of security offences.
The suspect, who was arrested in Limassol port on July 7, was described by Cypriot media as a Swedish passport-holder of Lebanese descent.
He was detained after tracking the movement Of Israeli tourists on the island, according to some reports, but has not been charged with any crime.
In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident “the attempted terrorist attack by Hezbollah against an Israeli target in Cyprus”. He accused the Shi‘ite guerrilla group’s sponsor, Iran, of overall responsibility.
Israeli diplomats have been targeted in several countries in recent months by bombers who Israel said struck on behalf of Iran.
Though Tehran has denied involvement, some analysts believe it is trying to avenge the assassinations of several scientists from its controversial nuclear programme, which the Iranians have blamed on Israel and its Western allies.
“This terror is conducted under Iran’s auspices. It is part of the Iranian plan,” Netanyahu said in the statement.
Hezbollah has its own scores to settle with the Jewish state. Two years after their 2006 border war, the Lebanese militia lost its commander to a Damascus car bomb it said was the work of Israeli spies, and vowed revenge.
Israel has since said it has foiled several Hezbollah attacks on its citizens abroad.
In Beirut, Hezbollah had no immediate comment on Israel’s allegation on Sunday.
Nicosia has been reticent about the case. Its police spokesman said on Saturday a 24-year-old foreigner was in custody “for specific, serious offences”. He did not elaborate.
Cypriot Justice and Public Order Minister Loucas Louca said authorities were awaiting for the results of their investigation before releasing further information.
“This is a serious and delicate case and any statements may harm the case,” he told reporters on Sunday.
A Cypriot government source said the arrest took place following information from foreign intelligence agencies.
An Israeli official said Israel’s Mossad spy service was involved in the investigation. Asked if a Mossad tip-off had prompted the arrest, the official declined comment.
The suspect’s reported July 5 arrival on Cyprus coincided with the country assuming the presidency of the European Union, an event marked by the gathering of a host of EU officials and commissioners on the island.
Cyprus lies just west of Syria and Lebanon but has been largely unscathed by the violence and upheaval in the Middle East.
Its last major security incident was a botched car bomb attack on the Israeli embassy in May 1988, which killed three people.
Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Nicosia; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Pravin Char