The Israeli government claims it has intercepted a shipment of weapons destined for Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Naval commandos stopped and searched the boat around 320 kilometres off the Israeli coast. The German-owned “Victoria” had originally set off from Syria before stopping in Turkey and was heading for Egypt. Palestinians in Gaza use tunnels to smuggle goods into Gaza across the border from Egypt.
Israel maintains a land and sea blockade on Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, a group which opposes the peace process being pursued by Fatah Palestinians based in the West Bank.
An Israeli military spokesman said the commandos encountered no resistance from the crew and that they were taking the ship to the port of Ashdod for further searches. Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “many weapons were found on board intended for terrorist forces in the heart of Gaza. Iran is the source of the weaponry.” He added that the operation had been carried out “in accordance with international law.”
Iran’s foreign minister later said “There is no such thing. We do not confirm it in any way.”
Previous Israeli seizures of boats have brought mixed results. In May last year, commandos killed nine activists when they boarded a cruise ship that was part of an “aid flotilla” trying to break the Israeli blockade.
In 2009, Israel impounded a freighter that the military said was carrying hundreds of tonnes of Iranian arms to Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon.
Nine years ago forces intercepted the Karine-A merchant ship in the Red Sea. After bringing the ship into the port of Eilat, troops displayed 50 tonnes of arms, including rockets. Israel said the cargo came from Iran and was destined for Palestinian militants.