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Turkey Lets Iranian Cargo Plane Depart After Finding 'Nothing Illegal'

An Iranian airplane, which officials said was forced to land in southeast Turkey on Tuesday on suspicion that it may have been carrying arms to Syria, sits at the tarmac at Diyarbakir airport, March 16, 2011

Turkish officials say searchers have found nothing illegal on an Iranian plane that authorities ordered to land in southeastern Turkey on suspicion of carrying weaponry to Syria.

The Turkish foreign ministry said the government allowed the Iranian plane to continue to its destination Wednesday after what it described as a routine inspection of its cargo lasting several hours.

Turkish authorities forced the plane to land in the city of Diyarbakir late Tuesday as it crossed Turkish airspace on a flight from Tehran to the Syrian city of Aleppo. Officials said the plane was suspected of trying to make an illicit weapons delivery to Syria. They said, however, that the search teams uncovered no illegal cargo on board.

Earlier Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel was aware of the forced landing and hoped that Turkey would carry out a proper inspection of the Iranian plane. Israel has long accused Iran of arming anti-Israel militants. Iran says it gives moral support to opponents of Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel has displayed a weapons cache that it says Israeli commandos seized Tuesday from a cargo ship in the Mediterranean. Israeli officials contend the weapons were Iranian-supplied and intended for Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Israeli authorities say the weapons, spread out Wednesday on a dock at the Israeli port of Ashdod, included several advanced anti-ship missiles and thousands of mortar shells and bullets. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inspected the weapons, saying their "ultimate target" was Israel's civilian population.

Israeli officials said the ship carrying the weapons, the Victoria, initially departed from the Syrian port Latakia before proceeding to the Turkish port of Mercin. They said it was headed for the Egyptian port of Alexandria when the commandos intercepted it in international waters. Israel said it believes Turkey had no involvement in the arms shipment.

Iranian state media say the commander of Iran's army, Major-General Ataollah Salehi, rejected Israel's accusations that Tehran was responsible for the weapons, calling them "fabrications" and "lies."

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.