Israel intercepts suspected weapons ship: military

Reuters News
|
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 10:51 AM
Israel intercepts suspected weapons ship: military

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli naval commandos on Tuesday seized a freighter in the Mediterranean carrying weapons intended for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, the military said.

A military spokeswoman said Israeli forces met no resistance when they intercepted the German-owned "Victoria" some 200 miles from Israel and were taking the vessel to Ashdod port in Israel.

Israel maintains a land and naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave controlled by Hamas, an Islamist movement opposed to peace with the Jewish state.

The military said the vessel had set off from the Syrian port of Latakia and stopped in Mersin, Turkey, before heading toward Alexandria in Egypt. Turkey has no involvement in the arms shipment, the military said.

"The various weaponry on the vessel was intended for the use of terror organizations operating in the Gaza Strip," the military said in a statement. Gazans use a network of tunnels to smuggle weapons and other goods from Egypt into Gaza.

Israeli media reports said tonnes of weapons in containers were found on the ship.

Last May, there was an international outcry when Israeli naval commandos seized a Turkish ship that was part of a flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade.

The soldiers met violent resistance from pro-Palestinian activists when they boarded the cruise vessel Mavi Marmara and killed nine of them, in an incident that strained Israel's ties with Ankara.

In 2009, about 100 miles off Israel's Mediterranean coast, Israeli commandos seized the Francop, a freighter the Israeli military said was carrying hundreds of tonnes of Iranian arms, including rockets, to Lebanon's Hezbollah group.

Nine years ago, Israeli forces intercepted the merchant ship Karine-A in the Red Sea and brought it to the Israeli port of Eilat, where the military displayed 50 tonnes of weapons, including rockets, which Israel said Iran had sent to Palestinian militants.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, editing by Tim Pearce)