Israel intercepts ship carrying "Gaza weapons"


An Israeli flag flutters as a military vessel leaves the navy port of Ashdod in southern Israel on June 5, 2010


David Buimovitch

Israeli naval commandos boarded a ship in the Mediterranean suspected of carrying weapons to fighters in the Gaza Strip, the country's military said Tuesday.

The Israel Defense Force said on its website that the cargo vessel was intercepted 200 miles off the Israeli coast as it sailed between Turkey and Egypt. Israeli forces did not meet any resistance, it said.

"According to assessments, the various weapons on board the vessel were intended to be used by terror organizations operating in the Gaza Strip," the statement said.

The IDF said the ship, the Liberian-registered Victoria, had originated from Lattakia port in Syria, before calling at Mersin in Turkey, en route to Alexandria in Egypt.

Israel regularly blames Iran and Syria for supplying weapons Gaza's militants despite denials from both countries, according to The Associated Press. "Iran and Syria are key supporters of two of Israel's main enemies: Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Hamas militants in Gaza," it says.

A spokesman for Hamas, which currently controls the Palestinian territory, denied the ship's contents were intended for Gaza, rejecting the Israeli statement as propaganda, Al Jazeera said.

Israel said the raid followed an alert from authorities in Germany, where the company that owns the vessel is based.

Last year Israeli forces triggered an international outcry after killing nine people on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship. Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza five years ago, saying the measure was needed to stop Hamas militants from importing weapons.

-- Barry Neild