BEIRUT – Iranian Red Crescent ambulances were used to smuggle weapons to Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group during its 2006 war with Israel, according to newly leaked U.S. diplomatic memos, which say the "IRC shipments of medical supplies served also to facilitate weapons shipments."
According to one of the documents, a person whose name was not published "had seen missiles in the planes destined for Lebanon when delivering medical supplies to the plane." The plane was allegedly "half full" prior to the arrival of any medical supplies, according to the memo.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war that killed 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis.
The more than 250,000 classified State Department documents were released Sunday by online whistleblower WikiLeaks.
A Hezbollah spokesman declined to comment, saying he had yet not read the document.
Iran, whose ties to Hezbollah date back nearly 30 years, allegedly funds the militant group, sending millions of dollars a year, and is suspected of supplying much of its arsenal.
Paul Conneally, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the Geneva-based body took the allegations against one of its members very seriously.
"We will of course discuss it with the Iranian Red Crescent, but for now they remain allegations which are unsubstantiated to the best of our knowledge, and based on a source who is not named," Conneally told The Associated Press.
Conneally said the Iranian Red Crescent had been contacted by Britain's Guardian newspaper ahead of the publication of the memo. "They denied those allegations vociferously," he said.
The IFRC, which represents 186 national societies and is a separate organization from the International Committee of the Red Cross, relies heavily on its status as a neutral organization.
"We have very strict rules and regulations on the use of our emblem," said Conneally. "It is the integrity of the use of the emblem which we depend on for access to humanitarian situations around the world."
Conneally said the IFRC hadn't previously been contacted by U.S. officials before the memo was leaked. "It was most definitely news to us."
During the monthlong conflict in Lebanon, Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets at northern Israel, including several medium-range missiles that for the first time hit Israel's third-largest city, Haifa. Israeli weaponry, including warplanes, destroyed areas in southern and eastern Lebanon and Hezbollah's stronghold of Dahiyeh in southern Beirut.
The New York Times, which along with several European publications was provided advanced access to the documents, reported that they describe the United States' failure to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah.
It said a week after Syrian President Bashar Assad promised a top State Department official that he would not send new arms to Hezbollah, the United States complained that it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group.
Syria, like Iran, is one of Hezbollah's strongest backers and much of the militant group's weapons are reportedly smuggled through Syria's long border. Damascus is also Iran's closest ally in the Arab world.
Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.