Chairs have ears in PLO headquarters

ABU DHABI - A weakness for sumptuous Swedish orthopedic chairs among the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation enabled the Israelis to monitor secret PLO meetings about the Middle East peace talks, according to French intelligence, writes Adel Darwish.

The chairs, shipped from France to the PLO offices in Tunis last year, turned out to be an Israeli Trojan horse, fitted with listening devices activated by body warmth. And as the discussions grew heated, Mossad agents listened in from a nearby hotel, and were able to relay extremely accurate reports to the Israeli leaders.

A Middle Eastern diplomat told the Independent on Sunday that one regional intelligence service warned the PLO leader Yasser Arafat some months ago of a mole in his headquarters. 'The way the Israelis negotiated suggested that they knew in advance how far Mr Arafat had authorised his representatives to go in accepting what was on offer,' the diplomat said.

The eavesdropping devices could work for more than seven hours before they needed recharging; and that was the task of the Mossad mole, Adnan Yassin, an aide to Hakam Balaawi, the PLO ambassador to Tunisia.

Last year, Mr Yassin's Mossad controller, who operates in Belgium, France and Holland under the name of George, is said to have given him a new Renault 25, which was used until mid-October by PLO leaders in Tunis. The car was fitted with listening devices, which were updated early this year by Mr Yassin's son, Hani, whose garage services Mr Arafat's fleet of executive cars.

Some Western diplomats suspect that the French, angry that Mossad activities in France had overstepped acceptable limits, decided to blow the whistle on Mr Yassin.

Bugging devices and detonators were fitted by Mossad in a Mercedes that a company partly owned by Mr Yassin and his son was exporting from France to Tunis in October. The French informed the Tunisians, who arrested Mr Yassin.