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Palestinians Arrest 2 Officials Over Arms Seizure

January 12, 2002|From Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian police on Friday detained two senior Palestinian officials suspected of trying to smuggle a boatload of arms into the Gaza Strip, Palestinian security sources said.

Israel called the move insufficient. Hours later, Israeli missile boats opened fire on Palestinian naval targets in Gaza, setting a fuel depot and a barracks on fire, Palestinian security sources said. A small patrol boat was also hit.

The barracks had been abandoned and there were no immediate reports of casualties.

The Israeli army said the missile boats also destroyed the "Jindalla," a cargo and fishing boat operated by the Palestinian naval police.

Last week, Israeli forces intercepted a ship carrying 50 tons of weapons. The ship's captain said in a televised jailhouse interview that he loaded the arms in Iran under orders from a Palestinian official and that the weapons were destined for Gaza.

The Israeli army said the captain was previously commander of the "Jindalla."

The seizure of the weapons came after four weeks of relative calm and again put Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on the defensive.

Israel has blamed Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, saying they were behind the shipment of arms, which included rockets and antitank missiles. The Palestinian Authority denies that.

"The Palestinian leadership emphasizes that it does not have any information about the ship issue," the Palestinian Authority said in a statement.

The two men detained were identified as Fuad Shubaki and Adel Mughrabi. Israel says Shubaki is a senior official who authorized payments for the ship and the arms. A third man, Fathi Razim, deputy commander of the Palestinian Authority's navy, was being sought by Palestinian security forces.

"The arrest of certain senior members of the Palestinian Authority . . . is an attempt by Yasser Arafat to exonerate himself," said Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "The real issue is . . . dismantling the terrorist infrastructure and stopping altogether the smuggling of illegal weapons."

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