Palestinian officials disclosed on Friday they had arrested three Palestinians accused by Israel of involvement in an attempt to smuggle a ship load of weapons seized by Israel last week in the Red Sea.
Palestinian security sources identified the suspects as Major-General Fuad Shubaki, director-general of finance for all the Palestinian Authority's security apparatus; Fathi Razam, deputy commander of Palestinian naval police; and Adel Mugrabi, a high-ranking officer in the naval police.
An internal committee of inquiry appointed by the Palestinian Authority declared in a statement that the three persons were called for questioning and then taken into custody.
The announcement was made shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell backed Israel's demand that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat arrest those responsible for the alleged smuggling plot.
The U.S. administration has adopted Israel's stance regarding the arms smuggling incident and has claimed that senior members of the Palestinian Authority had been involved in organizing the operation aboard the Karine A ship, intercepted in the Red Sea last Thursday.
However, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday, that the United States had no evidence linking the shipment directly to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
"The information we are receiving and developing on our own makes it clear that there are linkages to the Palestinian Authority. I have yet to see information that links it directly to Chairman Arafat" Powell told reporters. “They have to give it their immediate attention; they have to conduct whatever inquiries or investigations are necessary to get to the bottom of this matter," Powell said.
Powell said he had spoken to Arafat on Wednesday "to make it clear to them that this is a very serious matter."
On Wednesday, Powell told reporters that “Based on the information that I have and the intelligence we have received, and more information that is being provided by the Israeli Government, it is a very serious situation...an escalatory situation. When you see the weapons that were being brought in, this would have taken us to a new level of violence”. He then added “I think that Chairman Arafat has to give full explanations as to what role might have been played by Palestinians in this, members of his Authority or other Palestinian groups”.
Later, on Thursday, U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said that the United States had "convincing evidence" proving that Iran and Hezbollah were linked to the smuggling attempt.
U.S. President George W. Bush, it seems, has also adopted a position in support of Israel "I, like many, am beginning to suspect those arms were headed... to promote terror."
Bush did not directly blame Arafat but strongly conveyed: "I do believe that once the evidence is in, those responsible should be held accountable... Mr. Arafat must renounce terror, must reject those who would disrupt the peace process through terror and must work hard to get to the peace table."
Meanwhile, Israel continued its attacks in the Gaza Strip early Saturday, as naval gunships bombed Palestinian naval installations and ships off the coast of Gaza. Palestinian sources said that a fuel depot and a barracks were set on fire. The gunships also destroyed a small patrol boat used by the naval police, which was at the dock for maintenance, Palestinian security sources said. No injuries were reported.
Also Saturday, Palstinian sources reported that Israeli tanks fired at least four shells, which struck homes in a Rafah refugee camp, injuring at least eight people, including two women. (Albawaba.com)
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