Israel Displays Captured Weaponry; U.S. Envoy Wraps Up Talks Without Cease-Fire
JERUSALEM – Israel accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Sunday of plotting "the next wave of terror," displaying 50 tons of missiles, mortars and mines seized during a commando operation at sea. Amid recriminations, a U.S. envoy wrapped up talks without an agreement for a formal Mideast truce.
Standing before row upon row of the confiscated weaponry, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon alleged Arafat was directly involved in the $100 million arms shipment, accusing him of personally ordering the weapons from Iran and a ship from Lebanon to carry them.
Sharon was joined by senior Israeli security officials for the nationally televised event that emphasized the importance the government has placed on the weapons cache, laid out in neat rows Sunday at a naval yard in the Red Sea port of Eilat.
There were machine guns, mines, mortars, Katyusha rockets, grenades, AK-47 assault rifles and more than a half-million rounds of ammunition for various guns, all of which Israel says were on their way from Iran to the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian leadership has denied any connection to the Iranian-made weapons or the ship. In a statement Sunday, the Palestinian leadership said it "condemns this operation and condemns the Israeli attempt to accuse the Palestinian Authority of being involved in this."
Israeli commandoes stormed the Karine A Thursday in the Red Sea about 300 miles south of Eilat. While the pre-dawn raid occurred in international waters, no one has claimed ownership of the boat or its weapons.
A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was possible the weapons were headed for Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese group, or Hamas, the extremist Palestinian movement.
A Hezbollah official in Beirut, Lebanon, denied any member of the guerrilla group was on board the ship. He declined to say whether any of the weapons were intended for the movement.
The dispute over the massive weapons cache overshadowed the mission by Anthony Zinni, the U.S. envoy who was completing four days of talks Sunday evening with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, but with no signs of a breakthrough.
The period of relative calm that preceded Zinni's visit prevailed during his stay. But he was not able to persuade the sides to begin implementation of a cease-fire plan drafted last year by CIA director George Tenet.
No Israelis have been killed in more than three weeks, the longest such stretch since the Palestinian uprising began more than 15 months ago. And the Palestinians say they are making a good faith effort to halt attacks against Israel.
In an early morning operation Sunday, about 200 Palestinian police swept into the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank and arrested six members of the militant Islamic Jihad.
Among those detained was Ali Saffouri, described by Palestinian security officials as the second most-wanted man among 33 suspected militants whose arrest Israel has demanded.
Israel says the Palestinians have arrested only about 10 people on the list, and those detained were not being interrogated.
After meeting Sunday with Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Zinni appeared to acknowledge the Israeli demand that more needed to be done on the security front.
"It is a long road and a long path," Zinni said. "It has to start with security and it has to start with countering terrorism."
A statement by the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv said that at a meeting with Israeli and Palestinian security officials on Sunday night Zinni set both sides a number of goals on security cooperation and would be hoping to see progress when he returned.
Palestinian West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub, who attended the three-hour session, said the sides agreed to continue meeting, both with one another and in three-way talks with American officials, during Zinni's absence.
Zinni, who did not comment on the Israeli arms seizure, was expected to leave early Monday and return to the region in about two weeks.
Israel said most of the seized weapons were made in Iran and would have significantly boosted Palestinian firepower. Israel's Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the shipment was worth $100 million.
"The Palestinian Authority has been focusing all its efforts on terrorism and preparing the operational infrastructure for the next wave of terror," Sharon said.
Israel claims the Palestinians purchased the ship in Lebanon, and that four of the 13 crew members belonged to the Palestinian naval police. All have been arrested.
Israel's military chief, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, said the ship was to have transferred its cargo to smaller vessels which could more easily evade Israeli naval patrols off the Gaza coast and drop the weapons into the sea in watertight capsules which would then be retrieved by the Palestinian naval police.