Saturday, January 24, 2009
The U.S. military intercepted and searched an Iranian-owned ship that officials feared was carrying arms to the militant group Hamas, but two officials said it was unclear Thursday whether those suspicions were founded. The Cypriot-flagged commercial vessel was tracked by a U.S. Navy ship in the Red Sea over the weekend, one official said. It was boarded and searched with the consent of the vessel's crew on Monday and Tuesday, said another. They both spoke on condition of anonymity because details were still sketchy and they were not authorized to speak about it on the record. One official said the two-day search turned up ammunition that included artillery shells; and since Hamas is not known to use artillery, officials are now uncertain who the intended recipient was. "There's just a lot of things we don't know yet, and it will be a couple of days before we do," he said. Lt. Stephanie Murdock, a spokeswoman for the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said she had no comment on the operation.But the two other defense officials said the vessel was allowed to continue its voyage after the search. One official said Egypt has been asked to a fuller search once the ship arrives in port. Israel launched a 22-day offensive late last month on Hamas-controlled Gaza to try to permanently halt years of militant rocket fire on growing numbers of Israelis and to halt the smuggling of arms that turned Hamas into a threat to much of southern Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was in Brussels on Thursday, hoping to get a deal committing the European Union to contribute forces, ships and technology to anti-smuggling operations, Israeli officials said. Most of the smuggling has been carried out through tunnels underneath the eight-mile border between Egypt and the Gaza border. Egypt has not been able or willing to stop the flow of weapons and medium-range rockets through the tunnels, along with fuel and consumer goods. Israel bombed most of the tunnels during the offensive.