Israel displays weapons haul from seized ship

AFP , Wednesday 16 Mar 2011

Israel soldiers laid out a weapons stockpile allegedly found in a seized ship which Israel claims was transporting arms smuggled from Iran to Gaza

Israel on Wednesday displayed the haul of weapons it discovered on a seized ship it says was carrying arms being smuggled from Iran to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Soldiers laid out crate after crate of arms and ammunition on the dock of the Ashdod port, including advanced anti-ship missiles that Israel warned could change the balance of forces in the region.

The Liberian-flagged "Victoria" was intercepted early on Tuesday by Israeli naval commandos some 200 nautical miles west of Israel's coastline.
Escorted by warships, it arrived at Ashdod, just north of the Gaza Strip, in the early hours of Wednesday where troops began inspecting and unloading the shipping containers.

The army said there were about 50 tonnes of weapons that had been hidden in containers holding lentils and cotton. Among the weapons discovered were tens of thousands of bullets, 230 120-millimetre mortar shells, more than 2,000 60-millimetre mortar shells and six of the Chinese-made C704 anti-ship missiles.

The shipment also included two missile launchers and an advanced radar system to track targets and guide the missiles. Israel said the missiles represented an alarming escalation in attempts to arm militant groups in Gaza.

"The weaponry would have bolstered terrorist infrastructure at sea and on shore and directly threatened the Israeli navy and civilian vessels at the port of Ashdod," the army said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the deputy commander of the Israeli navy, Rear Admiral Rani Ben-Yehuda, said the missiles had a range of 35 kilometres (22 miles).
"Anything within its range, of course, will find itself in danger," he said.

During Israel's 2006 war with Lebanon's Hezbollah, guerrillas hit an Israeli warship off Beirut with an Iranian-made missile based on Chinese technology, killing four crewmen.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to inspect the weapons later on Wednesday, accused arch-foe Iran of trying to send the weapons to Gaza.
"The source of the weapons was Iran, which is trying to arm the Strip," he said.

However, Iran denied any connection to the incident. "The Zionist regime is a regime blended with lies, producing lies and disseminating lies. We reject all such false news," the official IRNA news agency quoted Iranian army chief Ataollah Salehi

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