Al Jazeera & Jenny Booth / The Times – 2009-03-26 08:53:26
US Jets ‘Bombed Convoy in Sudan’
SUDAN (March 25, 2009) — Mabrouk Mubarak Salim, the state minister for highways, said on Thursday that Sudanese, Somalis, Ethiopians, and Eritreans were killed in the attacks in January and February. Salim said the air raids were launched from the US fleet in the Red Sea.
The attacks targeted a number of cars in the desert near the eastern city of Port Sudan, Salim said. Photos released by a Sudanese intelligence source to Al Jazeera show what is said to be the aftermath of the attacks.
More than 50 people received treatment at a hospital in the town of Kassala after the raids, which were launched from the US fleet in the Red Sea, he said. However, Deng Alor, the Sudanese foreign minister, said in Egypt on Wednesday that he had no knowledge of any such air raid. “We have no information about such an attack,” he said.
The US-based CBS network reported similar attacks on Wednesday, but said its sources had told David Martin, its Pentagon reporter, that Israeli aircraft were involved.
CBS said that the jets were targeting weapons convoys heading through Sudan on their way to Egypt, where they would have been taken across the Sinai into the Gaza Strip.
“Sudan used to provide Hamas with weapons but that is not the case any more,” Alor said. Salim said that the air raids hit human-traffickers travelling through the desert area and the only weapons in the convoys were small arms being carried by guards.
Ronen Bergman, an investigative journalist, told Al Jazeera that his Israeli and US sources backed up the CBS take on events. Bergman said that weapons are smuggled to Gaza either from Syria by sea to the Sinai peninsula or from Iran via Sudan.
“The last operation executed by the Israeli military forces in the Gaza Strip has caused Hamas to lose quite a lot of its arsenal and, therefore, to request for more and more supplies from Iran,” Bergman said. “Some of those supplies were intercepted in that alleged raid by the Israeli air force.”
Neither the US, which has troops based in the African state of Djibouti, nor Israel has commented on the alleged incident. A Sudanese minister has told Al Jazeera that the US launched two air raids in the country earlier this year.
Israel fought a 22-day war in Gaza which ended when it declared a unilateral halt to military operations on January 18.
Al Jazeera and agencies
Israel Suspected of Bombing Sudan a
Ams Convoy Headed for Gaza
Jenny Booth / The Times
(March 26, 2009) — Sudan admitted today that foreign fighter planes carried out an airstrike on a convoy of 17 trucks transporting arms to Gaza in January.
Israel refused to comment on reports that it was responsible for the attack, which took place inside Sudanese airspace near the border with Egypt.
CBS, the US television network, said that 39 people were killed in the strike, which happened soon after Israel’s devastating three-week military assault against Gaza. The origin of the weapons – whether Sudan or further afield, with some fingers pointed at Iran – is not clear.
“A convoy of vehicles carrying illegal weapons was bombed near the Sudanese-Egyptian border in mid-January,” said Mabruk Mubarak Saleem, the Sudanese transport minister, adding that the weapons were headed for Gaza.
The minister, who is a former commander of the Eastern Front rebel group that signed a peace deal with Khartoum in 2006, ending decades of civil war, said that arms smuggling was rampant in the region because of the marginalisation of his Rashidiya Arab tribe. “Rashidiya tribesmen engage in this illegal trade because they’re so poor,” Mr Saleem said.
News of the airstrike dominated news coverage in the Israeli media. Israeli security sources told the liberal daily Haaretz that there was an international network of smugglers moving arm caches from Iran through the Gulf to Yemen, across the Red Sea to Sudan and then through Egypt to Gaza.
“If the reports are true, the bombing in Sudan was an important message of deterrence from Israel to Iran,” the paper said in an analysis.
“The timing of the operation – not long after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza – is indicative of the importance which Israel places in its execution. If the powers that be decide that it is worth taking the risk and striking targets some 1,400 kilometres [900 miles] outside of Israel’s borders, then it would appear that Israel believed Iran is seeking to supply Gaza with significant armaments.”
Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a former Israeli air force chief, told army radio that the reported Sudan raid showed that it was still too early to draw up a final assessment of the offensive in Gaza. “One of the essential elements of this operation was the strengthening of co-operation, particularly with the United States, to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas,” he said.
On January 16, just two days before Israel and Hamas implemented separate ceasefires, Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni signed an agreement with the then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to work together to stop arms smuggling to Gaza. As well as naval patrols off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast, the agreement also provides for intelligence sharing.
In recent weeks, the outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has alluded to a series of “major operations” carried out during his term of office.
In another unexplained incident, warplanes bombed five fishing boats off Sudan’s Red Sea coast on January 16, wounding 25 people, Sudanese security sources told AFP.
An international conference on preventing arms smuggling to Gaza is due to be held in Ottawa in May.
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