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Israel says it seized Gaza-bound rocket shipment from Iran

By Reuters - Mar 06,2014 - Last updated at Mar 06,2014

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — The Israeli navy seized a ship in the Red Sea on Wednesday that was carrying dozens of advanced Iranian-supplied rockets made in Syria and intended for Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip, the military said.

The disclosure came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the United States to press his case for tougher international action against Iran over its disputed nuclear programme and support for Islamist groups.

The Panamanian-flagged cargo vessel Klos C was boarded in international waters without resistance from its 17-strong crew in a “complex, covert operation”, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters.

Lerner said dozens of M302 rockets were found aboard the Klos C, a weapon which could have struck deep into Israel from Gaza and would have significantly enhanced the firepower of the Palestinian enclave’s Hamas rulers and other armed factions.

“The M302 in its most advanced model can strike over 100 miles, and if they would have reached Gaza, ultimately that would have meant millions of Israelis under threat,” he said.

Hamas dismissed the Israeli announcement as a “silly joke”.

“This is a new Israeli lie aimed to justify and prolong the blockade of Gaza,” said Taher Al Nono, an adviser of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

There was no immediate comment from Iran or Syria.

Military footage showed the Israeli navy chief, Admiral Ram Rothberg, inspecting a rocket on the floor of a ship hold, with cement bags labelled “Made in Iran” in English next to it.

Lerner said the rockets were flown from Syria to Iran, from where they were shipped first to Iraq and then towards Sudan. Had they reached the African coast, they would have probably been smuggled overland through Egypt to Gaza, he said.

Nic Jenzen-Jones, an Australia-based military arms specialist and director of Armament Research Services, said most reports indicated the Syrian-produced rockets had a 90 to 100km range.

“Several Israeli assessments of these rockets have questioned their reliability,” he said. “[Lebanese Shia group] Hizbollah has made use of these rockets, and Hamas is believed to be attempting to stockpile longer-range rocket systems.”

Israel and Islamist Hamas last fought a major conflict in November 2012. Hamas has largely held fire since but Israel says it has been trying to build up its capabilities. That has been made difficult, however, by a new military regime in Cairo which has cracked down on the Egyptian border with Gaza.

Netanyahu’s office said that the prime minister, who was in Los Angeles on Wednesday after holding a White House meeting and addressing a pro-Israel lobby in Washington, had approved the ship seizure after consultations with his security chiefs.

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