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Middle East
Israel seizes 'Gaza-bound weapons'
Hamas denies Israeli claim that ship boarded in the Mediterranean was carrying cargo of Iranian arms to Gaza.
Last Modified: 15 Mar 2011 11:54 GMT
An image released by the Israeli military showing weapons it says were seized aboard a Gaza-bound cargo vessel

Israel's navy says it has boarded an Egypt-bound ship suspected of carrying Iranian weapons to fighters in the Gaza Strip.

In a statement the Israeli military said it intercepted a Liberian-flagged vessel called Victoria some 200 nautical miles off the Israeli coast in the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday.

"According to assessments, the various weaponry on-board the vessel was intended for the use of terror organisations operating in the Gaza Strip," it said, but did not describe the type of arms found on-board.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said in a statement that he had approved the operation and claimed that the weapons came from Iran.

"We had a solid basis that onboard the ship was weaponry destined for use against Israel. Considerable weaponry, which was destined for terrorist forces in the heart of Gaza, was found onboard the vessel," he said.

"The operation was carried out at sea in accordance with all international rules. The weaponry originated in Iran, which is trying to arm the Gaza Strip."

However a Hamas spokesperson denied that the ship's contents were intended for Palestinian fighters, describing the Israeli statement as propaganda designed to damage the reputation of Hamas in the international community.

An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said: "Don't trust Israeli media news. There is no such thing. We do not confirm it in any way."

Israel said the boat was on its way from a port in Turkey to Alexandria in Egypt, but that "Turkey is not tied to the incident in any way".

The vessel had previously visited the Syrian port of Latakia, the Israeli military said. 

It added that the crew, which put up no resistance when confronted by Israeli forces, would be transferred to an Israeli port for questioning and further inspection.

Israel has previously accused Hamas of shipping arms through Egypt.

The ship is said to be German-owned and operated by a French shipping company.

Last May, Israel sparked an international outcry when naval commandos seized a Turkish ship that was part of a flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade, killing nine people on board.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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