- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

LONDON (AP) - Nine nations working on a plan to prevent arms smuggling into the volatile Gaza Strip have agreed to use existing United Nations resolutions as a legal basis for their efforts rather than seek new legal authority to prevent weapons from reaching Gaza militants, British officials said.

The group, including Britain and the United States, agreed in London Friday to hold meetings in Canada next month to work out details, the officials said.

A statement spelling out the strategy would be posted on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Web site Monday, officials said.

The weapons issue is extremely sensitive because Israel is counting on international help to prevent militants from Hamas and other groups from getting weapons that can be launched across the border from Gaza into Israel, where border towns have been subjected to repeated rocket attack.

It was these rocket bombardments that spurred the recent bloody fighting in Gaza, and Western diplomats hope to prevent another round of fighting in part from cutting off the arms flow, much of which arrives by sea.

A senior British diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy said the nine countries agreed that “non-coercive” methods would be used to clamp down on the arms flow.

That means, he said, that any vessel whose captain refuses to allow the ship to be boarded for an inspection will not be forced to submit to the procedure.

The U.S. and Britain are joined by Norway, Germany, France, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark in the campaign, which is designed to strengthen the wobbly cease-fire in Gaza. The meeting in London on Friday followed one in Denmark last month.

The Israeli government sent representatives as observers to the London meeting, but the Egyptian government _ expected to play an important role because of its strategic location on Gaza’s border _ declined an invitation to attend, the diplomat said.

The Palestinian Authority government that maintains power in the West Bank but not in Gaza also did not attend, officials said.

Officials said diplomatic, military, intelligence and law enforcement resources would be used against arms smugglers but cautioned that it would take time to shut down the well-established smuggling routes into Gaza.

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