Israeli vulture cleared of spying

A vulture stands on a tree branch after receiving treatment at a veterinary clinic in the Wildlife Hospital of Ramat Gan Zoo Safari near Tel Aviv, on 29 January 2016Image copyright

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The vulture is now being treated at a wildlife clinic near Tel Aviv for minor injuries

A huge vulture detained in Lebanon on suspicion of spying for Israel has been returned home after UN peacekeepers intervened, Israeli officials said.

The bird, which has a 1.9m (6ft 5in) wing span, flew over the border from an Israeli game reserve and was caught by Lebanese villagers on Tuesday.

They became suspicious as the griffon vulture had a tracking device attached to its tail.

It is part of a conservation project to reintroduce raptors to the Middle East.

Wildlife officials say the vulture was brought from Spain last year and set free about a month ago in the Gamla Nature Reserve in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Tel Aviv University is involved in tracking the bird, and as well as a GPS transmitter, it had tags on its wings and an engraved metal ring on its leg saying: “Tel Aviv Univ Israel”.

‘Discreet operation’

Wildlife officials in Israel were alerted to its capture when photos of the tied-up bird appeared on social media.

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The UN acted as a go-between in negotiations with the Lebanese and Gamla Nature Reserve

“In a discreet operation with the Lebanese and with the great help of UN forces and the UN liaison unit, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority was able to return the vulture that was caught a few days ago by villagers of Bint Jbeil, Lebanon,” an Israeli statement released on Friday said.

The Lebanese media says the villagers freed the vulture after it became clear it was not on a spying mission.

After its ordeal the bird was weak and was being treated for minor injuries, officials said.

It is not the first time a griffon vulture has been taken to be an agent of the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

Saudi Arabia captured one, also with a Tel Aviv University tracker, in the desert city of Hyaal in 2011, sparking rumours of a “Zionist plot” that were dismissed by Israeli officials.

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