Monday, January 02, 2006

Anti-aircraft missiles smuggled into Gaza


Palestinians have smuggled anti-aircraft missiles into the Gaza Strip along with tons of other military hardware since Israel withdrew in September, an Israeli intelligence report said on Monday.

The missiles were smuggled into Gaza across the border from Egypt, the Shin Bet security agency's report said.

It said that Palestinian militants were acquiring anti-aircraft missiles primarily to thwart Israeli air strikes on militants in Gaza, but it said these weapons could in theory threaten civilian aircraft in Israel.

"The presence of anti-aircraft missiles in Gaza considerably heightens the threat against Israeli aircraft, both military and civilian," the report said. "It also increases the risk that such weaponry will enter the West Bank where it will present a significant threat to Israeli aviation."

Anti-aircraft missiles could limit Israel's ability to use helicopters and planes to kill suspected militants in Gaza and the West Bank.

The Palestinian Interior Ministry denied the Israeli report.

"As far as the information of our security services is concerned, the report by the Israeli intelligence is wrong," a spokesman said.

The report said "a small number" of anti-aircraft missiles had been smuggled into Gaza along with 200 anti-tank rocket launchers, 300 anti-tank rockets, 5,000 automatic rifles and five tons of explosives since the pullout.

According to the report, the amount of weaponry smuggled into Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal was some six times the amount smuggled from Egypt to Gaza during January to September 2005 when Israel controlled the Gaza-Egypt border.

Commenting on the report, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra said that Israel should keep tight control on any movement of Palestinians from Gaza to the West Bank to prevent any flow of weapons into Palestinian territories located near major Israeli population centres.

The United States has backed Palestinian calls for Israel to allow convoys of Palestinians to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. Israel has not yet allowed the convoys to start, citing security concerns.