Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Israel Intercepts Freighter Packing Smuggled Weapons Destined For Gaza

Israel's navy intercepted a freighter that was heading to Egypt, and once aboard they discovered a major cache of weapons.
A statement by the military said naval commandos met no resistance while boarding the Victoria during a routine inspection 200 miles offshore. Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, a military spokesman, told Israel Radio at least three crates of weapons had been found and that hundreds of other crates would be inspected after the vessel is escorted into the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The freighter had sailed from the Syrian port of Latakia and stopped in Mersin, Turkey, before heading toward Alexandria in Egypt, the military said. Turkey has no involvement in the arms shipment, it added.

Militants in Gaza, a coastal enclave ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, use a network of tunnels to smuggle weapons from Egypt. Israeli officials say weapons smuggling from Egypt has increased since late January, when a popular uprising against the then-President Hosni Mubarak prompted the government there to withdraw some police forces away from the Gaza border.

Israel maintains a land and naval blockade of Gaza to isolate Hamas, which is hostile to Israel and backed by Syria. Gen. Benayahu said Israel suspected Syria of being behind the arms shipment.
The port from which the Victoria departed had been previously visited by two Iranian warships that had gone through the Suez Canal, so it is possible that these weapons were transported aboard those warships in an effort to circumvent the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The ultimate destination of the weapons was Gaza and the cache of weapons was hidden among food supplies. Nothing like having your recommended daily allowance of fiber along with HE 60mm mortar rounds.

A photo of the weapons cache:

Those mortar shells were just the tip of the iceberg. Israeli officials announced that they not only recovered mortars and small arms, but a total of 50 tons of weapons including anti-ship missiles. They also came with instructions in Farsi and had links to Iran.
According to the Navy, soldiers who searched the ship found numerous 60 and 120-millimeter mortar shells, as well as two to four Chinese-made C-704 anti-ship missiles with a 35-kilometer range. Had they reached Gaza, the missiles would have threatened Israeli sea-based strategic installations and navy vessels, Ben-Yehuda said.

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