Vanunu in Court for Libel Suit Hearing
By Zvi Harel, Haaretz Correspondent
Mordechai Vanunu attended a court hearing Monday at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's court, his first public appearance since being released last month from an 18 year prison sentence, in a libel case against Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper and journalist Ron Ben Yishai.
The suit filed for the amount of NIS 368,000 was submitted in September 2002 in the wake of an extensive article, which stated that during Vanunu's prison sentence he passed on information to the Hamas on how to manufacture explosive devices.
Vanunu's defense attorney, Avigdor Feldman, said the report was fabricated. The article was never verified and Yedioth Aharonoth did not even ask Vanunu for his response on the matter.
Ben Yishai said on Monday, that that the preliminary information he received on the case came from Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet security services who discussed it in a meeting with a group of some 10 journalists at the end of 1999. Ben Yishai said, he had decided to publish the article five months later, only after verifying the information with another source and because there was public interest at the time since Vanunu had submitted a request for his early release.
Ben Yishai stressed that he did not reveal Ayalon's name (Haaretz revealed that Ayalon was the source of the information [ZH]). Ben Yishai also said that he did not ask the other source to testify in order not to divulge journalistic sources.
Ayalon is expected to testify at the next hearing.
Vanunu was released from an Israeli prison last month after serving an 18-year prison sentence for providing The Sunday Times of London with information and pictures of Israel's nuclear reactor.
Based on the pictures and information provided by Vanunu - who worked as a technician in the reactor - experts assessed at the time that Israel has the sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. After his release from prison Vanunu - a convert to Christianity- stayed at St. George, an Anglican Church in Jerusalem's Old City.