State Dept. says Palestinians were involved in arms shipment
AP Diplomatic WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- Switching gears, the State Department accepted as "credible" Israel's allegations that the Palestinian Authority was trying to smuggle in rockets and other weapons by sea.
"We have some of the evidence," spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday. A day earlier Boucher said the State Department had not assembled the facts and could not determine whether the ship seized last Friday by Israel was making a delivery for the Palestinian Authority.
Earlier Tuesday, Israel's justice minister, Meir Shitreet, told Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage that 50 tons of weapons aboard the intercepted vessel were intended for delivery to Palestinian fighters.
"There is no doubt (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat is responsible," Shitreet told reporters.
Boucher said U.S. diplomats had examined some of the weapons. He said the State Department expected to receive additional information in meetings Wednesday with senior Israeli intelligence officials.
"The quantity and quality of these weapons are of serious concern," the spokesman said.
Boucher also said the Bush administration was waiting to hear from Arafat, who has disavowed any knowledge of the weapons shipment.
Another Israeli official said the arsenal included armor-piercing weapons designed to disable Israeli tanks. And Shitreet said 3,400 pounds of C4 explosive, a common terrorist weapon, were in the cargo.
"We have no doubt about the connection to Arafat," Shitreet said. Echoing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he called Arafat a liar and said Israel had intercepted three other such shipments in the past, but that a fourth succeeded in arming guerrillas in Lebanon.
Shitreet said the weapons seized last week were not designed for the Hezbollah fighters, who are conducting a cross-border, low-level war with Israel, since Iran is able to easily arm the guerrillas through Syria.
The weapons, which included rockets, would have posed a high danger to Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities.
Even so, Shitreet said Israel is prepared to resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority once there have been seven days of calm. He said Israel's dispute was not with the Palestinian people; the minister said Israel was making sure they had sufficient food, electricity and other supplies.
On Monday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he did not know who hired the ship. Officials were trying to find out if the ship was loaded in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.