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Gaza groups deny Israel claims of Iran weapons shipment

March 5, 2014 2:11 P.M. (Updated: March 7, 2014 3:08 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel claimed that it intercepted a ship in the Red Sea on Wednesday carrying Iranian "advanced weaponry" bound for Palestinian militants in Gaza, the military said.

Representatives of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, however, denied the accusations, with Hamas officials pointing out that Gaza is under a complete naval blockade by Israel that would make any shipment of arms into the besieged coastal enclave impossible.

Gaza Ministry of Interior spokesman Islam Shahwan said in a statement that Israeli claims were a "dangerous move" to justify Israel's seven-year long blockade.

Shahwan urged journalists to avoid "being tricked by the Israeli narrative about capturing a ship carrying weapons to Gaza," adding that "the sea is completely besieged and closed by the Israeli navy, and any ship which sails will be obstructed."

An Islamic Jihad official in Gaza also said that the group has no information on the weapon shipment intercepted by Israel.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Ma'an that he has "no clear data on the subject, but if the information is true it is a medal of honor to the one who sent the shipment."

Israel, which has long accused Iran and Syria of providing military aid to Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups, said the ship was carrying "advanced weaponry," including rockets "capable of striking anywhere in Israel."

The military said the Syrian-made weapons aboard the "Klos-C" were shipped overland to Iran and then onward towards Gaza by sea before being intercepted between Sudan and Eritrea.

"Dozens of surface-to-surface M302 Syrian-manufactured rockets were found (aboard)," Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters, adding that the crew of the ship had "fully cooperated."

"We know for a fact the Iranians are behind this shipment," Lerner said. "We've been following this for several months."

The military said in an earlier statement it had "prevented an attempt to smuggle an Iranian shipment of advanced weaponry intended for terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip."

The military spokesman's office tweeted that the rockets were "capable of striking anywhere in Israel."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the operation proved that Iran was playing a double-game with the international community, conducting talks on its controversial nuclear program while supporting "terrorism."

"This clandestine operation was conducted by Iran. While Iran is conducting these talks, smiling to the international community, it continues to arm terrorist groups, continues to perpetrate terrorism around the world," Netanyahu, who is currently in the United States, said in a video statement.

Militants in the Gaza Strip, which is governed by Hamas, have fired dozens of rockets at Israel since the beginning of the year, all of which have landed harmlessly in Israel.

Israel, meanwhile, has launched numerous air strikes on the Gaza Strip and soldiers have repeatedly opened fire on protesters near the border, killing at least eight people since the beginning of the year and injuring dozens.

The ship interception came just hours after the Israeli army claimed to have struck two Hezbollah fighters as they tried to plant a bomb near the Israeli-Syrian frontier.

It also came just over a week after Israel reportedly bombarded Hezbollah positions inside Lebanon for the first time since the 2006 war, prompting a threat of retaliation.

The Gaza Strip has been under a severe economic blockade imposed by the State of Israel since 2006.

The blockade was imposed following the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections and the subsequent 2007 clashes between Fatah and Hamas, which left Hamas in control of the Strip and Fatah in control of the West Bank.

The blockade has severely limited the imports and exports of the Gaza Strip and has led to frequent humanitarian crises and hardship for Gazans.

These have been particularly severe given frequently Israeli military assaults, particularly in 2008-9 and 2012, which killed around 1,400 and 170 Gazans respectively and led to major infrastructural damage.

AFP contributed to this report
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