After more than a week of febrile rumor and speculation
, Saudi Arabia has declared that a vulture found on its territory is...well, just a vulture. And innocent -- at least of spying for Israel.
The verdict, from the kingdom's Prince Bandar bin Saud Al Saud, ends a bizarre episode in which the bird faced unlikely accusations of being engaged in espionage activity after it was found in a remote area with a GPS tracker labeled "Tel Aviv University" attached to it.
Saudi media outlets carried reports that the vulture, identified as a Griffon, had been "arrested" under suspicion of spying as part of an alleged Zionist "plot."
Now, after Israeli denials and calls for its release, Saud has given the creature a clean bill of political health -- and lambasted Saudi journalists for jumping to conclusions.
Dismissing suspicions that the bird's GPS tag indicated possible spying, the prince told reporters: "These systems are fitted to birds and animals, including marine animals. Most countries use these systems, including Saudi Arabia. We have taken delivery of this bird, but we will set it free again after we [have] verified its systems."
He added: "Some of the Saudi journalists rushed in carrying the news of this bird for the sake of getting a scoop without checking the information. They should have asked the competent authorities about the bird before publishing such news."
His comments represent a rare example of Israel being in harmony with its Arab neighbors. Israeli officials have insisted that the bird was merely part of a study of bird migration patterns and insisted that the GPS device was above suspicion. "The device does nothing more than receive and store basic data about the bird's whereabouts and about his altitude and speed," the newspaper "Maariv" quoted an official from the country's Park and Nature Authority as saying.
-- Robert Tait