- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 12, 2002

From combined dispatches

RAMALLAH, West Bank Palestinian police yesterday detained two senior Palestinian officials suspected of trying to smuggle a boatload of arms into Gaza, according to Palestinian security sources.

The reports came on the heels of a statement by the Palestinian Authority that it would detain three senior officials in connection with the incident.

Security sources said two officials living in Ramallah already had been taken into custody.

There was no immediate response from Israel.

Israeli forces last week seized the ship, which was carrying 50 tons of arms. The ship's captain said in a jailhouse interview that he loaded the arms in Iran and that the weapons were destined for Gaza.

Israel has blamed the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Yasser Arafat, saying they were behind the shipment of arms, which included rockets and anti-tank missiles.

The Palestinian Authority maintains it had no connection with the weapons.

"The Palestinian leadership emphasizes that it does not have any information about the ship issue," the Palestinian Authority said in a statement. The statement added that the Palestinian Authority detained the suspects based on information it had from international sources.

The two men detained were identified as Fuad Shobaki and Adel Mughraby. Israel says the former is a senior official who authorized payments for the ship and the arms.

A third official, Fathi Razim, deputy commander of the Palestinians' navy, was being sought by Palestinian security forces.

In Washington yesterday, Hassan Abdel Rahman, the Palestinian Liberation Organization's chief representative, dismissed as "absurd" Israel's accusation that Mr. Arafat was directly involved in the foiled plot to smuggle in the arms.

Meanwhile, in Rafah, the hub of the Gaza Strip, Israeli tanks and bulldozers tore up the runway of the Palestinian-controlled international airport yesterday in retaliation for a Palestinian raid that killed four Israeli soldiers.

The army also said it cut off a main road in southern Gaza and that special forces arrested eight Palestinians wanted for arms smuggling in Rafah, a town on Gaza's border with Egypt.

The latest developments, including an announcement by the militant group Islamic Jihad that it would no longer adhere to its halt in attacks on Israelis, threatened to wreck U.S. efforts to end more than 15 months of bloodshed.

"This new aggression will lead to an explosion, more violence and tension," Nabil Abu Rdainah, senior aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, told Voice of Palestine radio.

Just hours after the airport incursion, Israeli troops wounded a Palestinian man near the tomb of the biblical patriarchs, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews, in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinian hospital sources said.

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