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Israel Captures Ship Loaded With Weapons - 2002-01-04


Palestinian officials are denying any connection to a shipment of 50 tons of weapons seized by Israeli forces on the Red Sea.

The head of the Israeli Defense Forces, General Shaul Mofaz told a news conference in Tel Aviv Friday that the Israeli Navy seized the ship on Thursday.

He said the cargo included Katyusha rockets, rifles, mortar launchers and shells, mines and anti-tank missiles.

General Mofaz said that if the shipment had reached its destination, it would have significantly increased the threat faced by Israeli civilians from terrorist attacks.

He said that the connection between the Palestinian Authority and the vessel is "unequivocal, clear, and undeniable."

General Mofaz said official figures in the Palestinian Authority, among them members of the Palestinian naval police, were involved. "It must be emphasized that the smuggle attempt is in direct violation of all existing agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, which clearly state the amount and type of weapons the Palestinian Authority is permitted to possess," the general said. "Once again that we see that the Palestinian Authority is not committed to upholding any agreement and is capable of posing a threat through the use of long-range weapons.

General Mofaz made his announcement as U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni held talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Nabil Abu Rudeinah, a spokesman for Mr. Arafat, denied any Palestinian Authority link to the ship.

He said the Palestinian leadership is checking whether the announcement is nothing more than Israeli propaganda designed to sabotage Mr. Zinni's mission.

But Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, who has strongly supported continued negotiations with Mr. Arafat, said the Palestinian Authority can no longer play what he calls a double game in the wake of the ship's capture.

Mr. Peres said the Palestinian Authority must decide whether it supports terror or dialogue.