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Israel showcases long-range rockets from 'Iran arms ship'

AFP , Monday 10 Mar 2014
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on Monday to showcase a shipment of arms allegedly sent to Gaza from Iran in a bid to show the world Tehran's "true face".

As hoards of journalists and foreign military attaches gathered on the quayside at a naval base in the southern resort town of Eilat, the weapons seized during last week's Red Sea raid were laid out in full view.

On board the Panamanian-flagged Klos-C, troops found 40 long-range M-302 rockets, 181 122mm mortar shells and approximately 400,000 7.62-calibre rounds.

Also on display were sacks of cement under which the weapons were hidden. On the sacks, written in English, were the names "Fars and Khozestan Cement Co" and "Hormozgan Cement Company" - both of them the names of firms based in Iran.

The Klos-C itself was too large to dock at the naval port, with Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, telling AFP the ship and its crew was likely to be released "in the coming few days."

Israeli investigators do not believe the crew was aware of the vessel's true cargo.

Israel has said it has "solid and incriminating evidence" that Iran planned and executed the shipment, with the aim of sending the arms to Palestinian militants in Gaza.

But so far, it has not made such evidence public, with Netanyahu suggesting the proof would be shown on Monday.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon and navy chief Vice Admiral Ram Rutberg will also speak at the news conference.

Iran has flatly denied any involvement with the shipment, which the Israeli army said was carrying missiles "capable of striking anywhere in Israel".

Netanyahu on Sunday accused Tehran of "brazenly lying" about its ties to the weapons cache, which analysts suggested were being sent to Islamic Jihad, a militant group operating in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Israel has long accused Iran and Syria of providing military aid to Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement and to Palestinian militants in Gaza.

M-302 rockets have a range of 160 kilometres (100 miles), and if fired from Gaza, they could easily reach Tel Aviv, which lies just 60 kilometres to the north.

"Each one of these rockets poses a threat to the safety of the citizens of Israel -- each bullet and each rocket that was discovered had an Israeli address," army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said when the ship docked in Eilat on Saturday night.

World powers are currently engaged in talks with Iran to roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

But Israel, which believes Iran is trying to build a military nuclear capability, has lashed out at the negotiations, arguing that the West is being duped over Tehran's true intentions.

On Sunday, Netanyahu lashed out at EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for her landmark visit to Tehran to discuss the nuclear talks and bolster ties.

"I'd like to ask her if she asked her Iranian hosts about the delivery of weapons to terror groups, and if she didn't ask, why not?" he said.

Israel has expressed disappointment over the apparent lack of interest shown by the international community in the seized shipment, with analysts suggesting the discovery was "unlikely" to change the West's limited rapprochement with Iran and its willingness to negotiate over the nuclear question.

Gaza's Hamas rulers have denied any knowledge of the ship, as has the smaller Islamic Jihad.

And Sudan, where Israel said the weapons were to be offloaded before being shipped overland to Gaza via Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula, has also denied any involvement.

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