Tags: Israel | Seizes | Ship | With | Tons | Weapons

Israel Seizes Ship With 50 Tons of Weapons

Friday, 04 January 2002 12:00 AM

Palestinian Authority officials denied the allegation.

"The whole story and its timing are fabricated in order to make [U.S. peace envoy Anthony] Zinni's mission fail," Palestinian Authority Minister of Information Yasser Abed Rabbo said Friday.

Most of the arms came from Iran, Israeli Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz told reporters in Tel Aviv. The 4,000-ton merchant ship, Karine A, was flying the Tonga flag.

Commandos boarded the ship in a combined Navy-Air Force operation at dawn Thursday on the Red Sea, about 300 miles from Israel's southern coast.

The operation was carried out in international waters, between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, military sources said.

"The process was short, fast, without any resistance," said Vice Adm. Yedidia Yaari, the Navy's commander. "We didn't have to open fire."

The Karine A was diverted to Eilat. It was escorted by Israel Devora patrol boats.

The ship's captain is a major in the Palestinian naval police, and some of its crew are officers in that force, Mofaz said.

By Friday afternoon the Israelis had inspected only 10 percent of the load, Israeli defense force spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey told United Press International. They found 122mm Katyusha rockets with a range of 20 kilometers, 107mm rockets, 120mm mortars, Sager and LAW anti-tank rockets, mines, sniper rifles, Kalashnikov assault rifles, magazines, bullets and explosives, Mofaz said.

"The smuggle attempt is in direct violation of all existing agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, which clearly states the amount and type of weapons the Palestinian Authority is permitted to possess," he noted.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the seizure was a turning point for the Palestinian Authority.

"They cannot continue playing the game. They have to make a strategic decision whether they support terrorism or they are against it," he said.

The Israelis informed Zinni, a retired Marine Corps general, of the seizure. Zinni arrived in the area Thursday for his second visit to the region.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Zinni pressed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for an explanation of the event in a previously scheduled meeting Friday. "Gen. Zinni has raised this issue in his meeting with Chairman Arafat today. He expressed, as I said, our strong condemnation of any attempts to escalate the conflict in the region by militant groups or others," Boucher said.

Boucher also said that Zinni "urged Chairman Arafat to take immediate steps to prevent future attempts to bring in additional weaponry or escalate the current conflict." The arms shipment could put a damper on recent steps Arafat has taken to arrest terror suspects inside the territories, moves that have garnered muted praise from Washington.

Boucher said the United States was not involved in the apprehension of the vessel, but did say the United States would offer its assistance into the investigation.

The Israeli military would not say where the arms were loaded. However, Yaari said the Karine A entered the Red Sea at the beginning of the week.

A senior navy source told UPI the Karine A was heading for the Egyptian Suez Canal that links the Red Sea with the Mediterranean. The Gaza Strip lies at the Mediterranean's eastern shore.

Arms were packed in underwater pressurized containers that could be adjusted to float at a specific depth, Yaari said, and were attached to buoys. The containers were placed inside boxes for the trip. Palestinians in the past had dumped shipments into the sea off Gaza's coast and collected them in smaller vessels.

The army did not say whether the 83 boxes were disguised to pass an Egyptian inspection at Suez.

Yaari said the pressurized containers' level of sophistication "is proof of a real industrial backup." It was not immediately clear who was responsible for it.

"The Iranian involvement is still being investigated," he said. There were also "some signs of involvement of other countries," Yaari said, declining to discuss the matter further.

The seizure comes at a time when Palestinian attacks in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have dropped sharply. Mofaz attributed the drop to international and Israeli pressure "that pushed them into a corner."

Thursday's capture was preceded by the seizure of a 40-ton vessel, the Santorini in the Mediterranean, last May.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Palestinian Authority officials denied the allegation. The whole story and its timing are fabricated in order to make [U.S. peace envoy Anthony] Zinni's mission fail, Palestinian Authority Minister of Information Yasser Abed Rabbo said Friday. Most of the arms came...
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Friday, 04 January 2002 12:00 AM
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