The Palestinian Authority has arrested one member of the Palestinian security forces for taking part in the weapons smuggling-ship affair, according to Nabil Amr, a close adviser to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, speaking on Saturday.
Previous Palestinian reports had claimed that the Palestinian Authority had arrested three men suspected of involvement in the smuggling incident. Amr said that the Palestinian committee investigating the suspicions has issued arrest warrants for three Palestinians, but only one of them has been held up for questioning, in Ramallah.
Earlier Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s Office rejected the Palestinian Authority's statement that it had arrested the three suspects. Israeli security sources said that Major-General Fuad Shubaki, one of the individuals that the Palestinians had claimed had been arrested, was in Ramallah and had not been detained at all.
They added that the other two, Adel Mugrabi and Fathi Razam, are not even located in Palestinian territory, and therefore cannot be arrested by the Palestinians.
"We have detained and are questioning Shubaki while the other two, Razem and Mughrabi, are not in town," Amr said. He went on to announce that, "The investigating committee will do all that is necessary to continue this probe."
According to a Palestinian official, the detentions did not signify any guilt regarding the incident, but were a part of the Palestinian investigative committee’s work. "President Yasser Arafat has ratified the decision and the committee asked the Israeli side to give the information they have concerning this issue."
According to Israeli sources, the Palestinians announced that they had issued arrest warrants for Mugrabi, a high-ranking officer in the naval police; Shubaki, the director-general of finance for the Palestinian Authority's security apparatus; and Razam, the deputy commander of Palestinian naval police. The Israelis, who intercepted the ship and questioned its commander, have supplied all the names to the Palestinians. The Israelis say that Shubaki was the one who approved the payment to purchase the arms transport.
A senior official of the U.S. administration said that the government welcomed the arrest and hopes that it marks the beginning of a serious effort.
For his part, Israeli government spokesman Ra’anan Gissin said regarding the Palestinian announcement of the arrest: "If indeed they arrested the men - a real arrest and not just house arrest - and are going to conduct a real interrogation so that the full story comes out, then that is welcome."
Gissin added, however, that, "the arrest of certain senior members of the Palestinian Authority ... is an attempt by Yasser Arafat to exonerate himself." He strongly urged, "They should now use this investigation to expose the entire ring behind the smuggling operation".
The Israeli Army also said Saturday that it had uncovered a tunnel in the Rafah refugee camp, which was used to smuggle weapons from Egypt. Israeli soldiers destroyed a house that served to hide the tunnel's exit, according to Israeli press sources.
Israel has accused Arafat and the Palestinian Authority of being behind the Karine-A operation, which it said was bound for Palestinian areas. The Palestinians have denied the allegations.
The United States has called on President Yasser Arafat to provide an explanation for the arms shipment.
Israel: Arafat Initiated Contacts With Iran
Meanwhile, Israel Defense Forces Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser, who headed a delegation of Israeli security officials which briefed U.S. counterparts last week in Washington, reports that the Americans no longer have any doubts that Arafat himself personally initiated contacts with Iran, contacts which led to the acquisition of weapons and their being loaded aboard the ship.
According to Haaretz, all of the pieces in intelligence surveillance of Palestinian arms smuggling came together after the capture of the ship, Kuperwasser conveyed.
According to this report, Arafat reached a decision in summer 2001 to change strategic directions, and work to establish a Palestinian-Iranian alliance. This initiative started with contacts beween trusted emissaries representing Arafat and Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. At the end of these contacts, Khamenei decided to overlook his objections to Arafat's willingness to forge compromises with Israel in the Oslo peace process, and increase his country's influence in the PA.
The Iranian ruler decided to exploit an opportunity to change the focus of his country's anti-Israeli activity, moving away from the Lebanon context, and working instead in the Palestinian arena. The Arafat-Khamenei decision, the Israeli security sources say, was reached before September 11; it was implemented despite U.S. peace envoy Anthony Zinni's visits to the region.
According to Israeli TV Channel 2, Israel informed the U.S. that Mohammad Dahlan, the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Chief in Gaza Strip and his counterpart in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub have maintained the ties with Iran and knew about the arm-smuggling attempt.
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