Page last updated at 10:25 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Hezbollah denies arms ship claims

Seized arms displayed in Ashdod, Israel, 04 Nov
Israel's leader said the weapons were for use against Israeli cities

Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has denied Israeli allegations it was the intended recipient of weapons on board a ship seized by Israel's military.

Hezbollah called the interception of the ship, which was boarded 100 miles (160km) off Israel, an act of "piracy".

Israel said the arms cache, one of the biggest it had ever found, came from Iran and was bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon, via Syria.

Both Iran and Syria have denied the Israeli accusations.

The Francop, an Antiguan-flagged vessel, was boarded on Wednesday and towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The ship had been carrying rockets, hand grenades, mortars and at least 3,000 missiles, the Israeli military said.


It also said a cargo certificate backed its claim that the shipment originated in Iran, though it did not show the documents.

Israel says the containers of weapons were loaded onto the Francop in the Egyptian port of Damietta, and were bound for Syria with a planned stopover in Beirut.

Some containers on the ship had IRISL - the initials of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines - on their sides. Some of the weapons were labelled in English.

On Thursday Hezbollah issued a stiff denial.

"Hezbollah staunchly denies any link to the weapons that the Zionist enemy has seized from the Francop ship," said a statement from the group reported by AFP news agency.

"At the same time Hezbollah denounces Israel's piracy in international waters," it said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the arms had been intended to strike Israeli cities.

Containers on Francop
Some of the ship's cargo was marked with the Iranian shipping company's initials (image: Israeli military)

Under UN resolutions aimed at pressuring Tehran to drop its alleged nuclear weapons programme, Iran is banned from exporting weapons.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 during which about 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon. About 160 Israelis also died in the conflict.

The UN resolution that established the ceasefire after the conflict included an arms embargo on Lebanon, except for transfers authorised by the Lebanese government or UN.

Iran and Syria are widely held to be the main sponsors of Hezbollah.

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