Sudan has confirmed that unknown aircraft attacked a suspected arms smuggling convoy in January, killing 30. The US denied responsibility, while Israel neither confirmed nor denied a role. The convoy is thought to have been heading for Gaza.
Reuters - Unidentified aircraft attacked a convoy of suspected arms smugglers as it drove through Sudan towards Egypt in January, killing some 30 people, two senior Sudanese politicians said on Thursday.
The United States denied responsibility. An Israeli official would neither confirm nor deny it, while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would strike "in places that are nearby and not that close", without mentioning the Sudan incident.
The Sudanese politicians, who asked not to be named, told Reuters the strike was in a desert area of east Sudan near the Egyptian border. They said they did not know who carried it out.
Media reports in Egypt and the United States have suggested it was aimed at arms smugglers bound for Hamas-ruled Gaza.
"It's not the U.S.," a U.S. defense official said in Washington. U.S. officials declined to comment further.
The Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "We have major problems with Sudan as a source of contraband arms. The Egyptians cannot be relied upon to patrol that big, porous border."
Olmert said in a speech on Thursday: "There's no point getting into details -- everyone can use his imagination ... Whoever needs to know, knows there is no place where the state of Israel cannot act."
Sudan's foreign minister Deng Alor told reporters in Cairo on Wednesday he had no information on any strike.
Any public confirmation of a foreign attack would inflame opinion in Sudan, where relations with the West are already tense following the International Criminal Court's decision this month to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of Darfur war crimes.
Bashir defied the warrant by travelling to Libya on Thursday for talks with leader Muammar Gaddafi, who said last month "foreign forces" including Israel were stoking the Darfur conflict.
Sudan remains on a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, but the State Department has said it is cooperating with efforts against militant groups.
The raid took place around the time Israel was carrying out a 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip, with the declared aim of halting rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants.
One of the two Sudanese politicians, a senior figure from east Sudan, said his colleagues spoke to a survivor of the raid.
"There was an Ethiopian fellow, a mechanic. He was the only one who survived. He said they came in two planes. They passed over them then came back and they shot the cars. He couldn't tell the nationality of the aircraft ... The aircraft destroyed the vehicles. There were four or five vehicles," he said.
The politician added that the route, in a desert region northwest of Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast, was regularly used by groups smuggling weapons into Egypt.
"Everyone knows they are smuggling weapons to the southern part of Egypt," he said.
The second Sudanese politician, an official in the capital Khartoum, said the attack was an open secret in the remote part of eastern Sudan.
He said two weeks ago, representatives of an Arab tribe appealed to authorities for the return of the bodies of more than 30 people killed in the raid.
Israel and the United States are both keen to stop weapons smuggling to Gaza militant groups via tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, and in January signed an agreement pledging international efforts to choke off such smuggling.
A report from the U.S.-based Washington Institute for Near East Policy this month quoted Israeli sources as accusing Iran of helping Hamas smuggle arms into Gaza via Sudan and Egypt. Egypt says it does its best to stop the smuggling.
Date created : 2009-03-26