Israel intercepts German-owned ship in Mediterranean

Tel Aviv, March 16 (DPA) Israeli naval commandos intercepted Tuesday a German-owned cargo ship in the Mediterranean, allegedly carrying weapons earmarked for Palestinian militants in Gaza.

The Victoria, sailing under a Liberian flag, was headed to Alexandria in Egypt, after sailing from Lattakia Port in Syria via Mersin in Turkey, the Israeli military announced.

Members of the naval commando unit boarded it in international waters some 200 nautical miles west of Israel’s coast early Tuesday, with no resistance from the crew or captain.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the arms were from Iran. An army spokesman said there were 50 tonnes of arms, including ground-to-sea missiles that could pose a threat to Israeli ships.

There were also instructions written in Persian, the spokesman said.

An Israeli army spokeswoman in Tel Aviv told DPA the ship was owned by a German company, while the shipping company operating it was French.

German, Liberian and French authorities have all been notified of the ship’s interception as the operation was under way.

Israel made a point of noting that ‘Turkey is not tied to the incident in any way’, a statement released by the military said.

Israel said the weapons on board the Victoria would likely have been smuggled from Egypt to Gaza over land, via the tunnels dug under the Egypt-Gaza border.

Israel seized another German-owned ship, the Francop, with hundreds of tonnes of weapons on board, off its coast in November 2009.

The weapons, including some 3,000 rockets and shells later laid out on the dock at the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, were allegedly earmarked for the radical Shiite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon and had come from Iran.

Israel at the time said the amount would have been enough to sustain Hezbollah through one month of fighting with Israel.

In 2002, the Karine A, a Palestinian freighter, was intercepted in the Red Sea with 50 tonnes of weapons earmarked for Gaza.