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Vanunu loses libel suit against Israeli paper

28 Nov 2005
By Dan Williams

TEL AVIV, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu on Monday lost a libel suit against an Israeli newspaper that said he had advised Palestinian fellow inmates on making bombs while serving an 18-year jail term for treason. The ruling was a fresh setback for Vanunu, 51, who was released last year only to be barred indefinitely from leaving Israel by Defence Ministry officials who accuse him of planning to reveal more state secrets. He denies the accusation.

Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court found against Vanunu's claim that Yedioth Ahronoth had libelled him in 1999 by quoting a security chief who said the whistleblower was caught passing bombmaking tips to Hamas militants in Ashkelon's Shikma prison.

In a 100-page ruling, the court noted Vanunu's denial. It quoted him as saying the action he was reported by the paper to have carried out was "contrary to his essence as a lover of peace who opposes, inter alia, atomic weaponry, yet never sought to harm the security of the state or of its citizens".

The court said it believed Yedioth's source, who headed the Shin Bet security service at the time and testified in court, and therefore the paper had not breached Israeli libel laws.

The Islamist group Hamas, sworn to destroying the Jewish state, has carried out suicide bombings over the past decade and has spearheaded a Palestinian revolt that erupted in 2000.

Vanunu, a convert to Christianity who lives in a Jerusalem church hostel helped by donations from foreign supporters, was ordered to pay 36,000 shekels ($7,700) in court costs.

He declined comment pending consultations with his lawyers.

A former technician at Israel's Dimona reactor, Vanunu all but blew away the country's nuclear secrecy by discussing his work with a British newspaper in 1986. His revelations led experts to conclude Israel had 100 to 200 atomic warheads.

Since his release from prison, Vanunu has angered Israeli officials by violating bans on contacts with foreign journalists and travel to Palestinian-ruled areas in the occupied West Bank.

He was released on bail on Nov. 19 after being detained a day earlier at a West Bank military checkpoint.

Vanunu accuses the Israeli government of trying to gag his anti-nuclear campaign. Israel neither confirms nor denies having an atomic arsenal under a policy of "strategic ambiguity" billed as warding off regional foes while avoiding an arms race.

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