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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 08:30 GMT
Arms ship 'owned by Iraqi'
Weapons from the seized cargo ship
Israel says the vessel was carrying arms from Iran
A ship seized by Israeli commandos after it was found to be carrying 50 tonnes of weapons may belong to an Iraqi national, the specialist shipping newspaper Lloyd's List says.

Israel says the ship belongs to the Palestinian Authority and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has accused its leader, Yasser Arafat, of being a key figure in international terrorism.

Ariel Sharon with weapons seized on board the ship
Ariel Sharon has accused the Palestinian Authority of terrorism
The Palestinian leadership has denied any connection with the shipment and says it is ready to take part in an international investigation into the affair.

Lloyd's List names the current owner of the ship, the Karine A, as Iraqi national Ali Mohammed Abbas.

Documents quoted by the paper are said to show that Mr Abbas bought the vessel from its former owners, a Lebanese shipping company, on 31 August last year.

Cargo of rockets

The paper says it has established that it was previously known as the Rim K, and registered in Lebanon.

If the ownership is confirmed, it could undermine Mr Sharon's claim that Mr Arafat personally ordered the arms shipment and that the Palestinian Authority was "a major player in the networks of world terrorism spearheaded by Iran".

Iran has also denied any connection with the arms but there was no immediate reaction from Iraq.

Israeli army photo of seized ship
Iran and the Palestinians have denied any connection with the arms
The vessel was seized by Israeli forces in international waters in the Red Sea early on Thursday and is being held in the port of Eilat.

Its cargo included Katyusha rockets with a 20-kilometre (12-mile) range, anti-tank rockets, mortar bombs, sniper rifles, mines and ammunition.

Israeli authorities said the weapons were mainly Iranian-made and that the captain was a colonel in the Palestinian naval police.

The Lloyd's List article says it would be unlikely that an Iraqi-owned boat would be delivering Iranian arms, given the history of enmity between the two states, unless the boat was owned by an Iraqi opposition group.

It was also possible that an Iraqi owner might have seen the delivery of arms as a simple business deal or that the vessel's owner did not know what it was carrying.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The Israelis are treating the capture of the ship as a major coup"
See also:

06 Jan 02 | Middle East
US envoy optimistic over Mid-East talks
05 Jan 02 | Middle East
Arms row mars peace mission
30 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israel sees peace hope
15 Dec 01 | Middle East
US blocks Mid-East observers
28 Nov 01 | Middle East
US Mid-East envoy calls for change
08 May 01 | Middle East
Arms haul sparks new fears
29 Nov 01 | key documents
The Mitchell report
03 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are Islamic Jihad?
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