Israel: Captured boat with weapons was for Palestinians
JERUSALEM (AP) – The Israeli navy has seized a fishing boat packed with rockets, mortars, missiles and grenades headed for the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip, the navy commander announced Monday.
The Palestinian Authority denied any connection with the arms shipment.
With the huge array of weapons spread out on a dock at the Israeli port of Haifa, Rear Adm. Yedidia Yaari said the weapons were ”capable of changing the balance of forces in our current fighting with the Palestinians.”
The fishing boat set out from Lebanon on Saturday with a cargo of Katyusha rockets, SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles, a variety of mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and land mines, Yaari said.
Yaari said the Lebanese smugglers on the boat were spotted and stopped Saturday by an Israeli naval vessel during a routine patrol.
The weapons were packed in barrels, which were to be left in the Mediterranean Sea at an agreed upon point, and afterward a second boat was to pick them up and deliver them to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, the admiral said.
Under interim agreements between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority is forbidden to have weapons such as rockets and missiles.
The Palestinians are permitted to have weapons such as automatic rifles, which have been used in many of the attacks against Israeli targets.
Palestinian militants have also planted bombs, and in recent weeks, have fired mortars at Israeli targets inside and near the Gaza Strip.
The Katyusha rockets on the boat have a much longer range than the 82 millimeter mortars which the Palestinians have been using against Israeli targets, and would enable the Palestinians in Gaza to threaten Israeli cities such as Ashkelon, officials said.
Yaari said he believed the smuggling operation was undertaken by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a radical Palestinian group based in Damascus, Syria, and led by Ahmed Jabril.
The Palestinian Authority had nothing to do with the arms shipment, its official News Agency WAFA said in a news release.
”The Palestinian leadership consider this Israeli accusation as an attempt to use it as a cover for the … killing of the four month-old baby,” the communique said, in a reference to a Palestinian child killed in the fighting Monday.
Shortly before Yaari presented the weapons, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told parliament that the Palestinian Authority was attempting to smuggle weapons.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on Monday warned that the Palestinians would very soon be using more deadly weapons than the mortars.
”I think that in the next few days, perhaps the next few hours, you will be faced with a reality which will be simply difficult to believe – what it is that we are confronting,” he told Israeli army radio. ”I think that quite soon we will be passing beyond the stage of the mortar bombs.”
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