JAFFA, Israel – A source within Hamas has admitted a weapons convoy in Sudan meant for his Islamist organization was struck by a missile in January.
Earlier today, CBS reported the Israel Air Force carried out the attack on a convoy of trucks carrying arms destined for Hamas in the Gaza Strip. According to the report, 39 people riding in the 17-truck convoy were killed, while a number of civilians in the area were injured.
The strike would signify a heightened and expanded Israeli response to rampant weapons smuggling into Gaza, sending a message to Hamas’ backers that Israel will target outside the Gaza Strip.
A top source within Hamas’ so-called military wing told WND there was indeed an attack against a weapons convoy in Sudan.
“It is true,” said the source, speaking from Gaza. “One of the convoys was exploded at the beginning of the year, but the smuggling continues in spite of the strike.”
The Hamas source continued: “It is not a secret that Sudan is the heart of the smuggling operation of Hamas. The Israelis and Americans know the traditional weapons track is from Iran to Sudan to the (Egyptian) Sinai into Gaza.”
The source did not know who carried out the strike in Sudan.
Israeli officials declined to confirm or deny the airstrike, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted today Israel was behind the attack.
“Israel hits every place it can in order to stop terror, near and far,” Olmert said, speaking at a conference at which reporters were present.
Also today, two senior Sudanese politicians told reporters that unidentified aircraft attacked a convoy of suspected arms smugglers, killing almost everyone in the convoy. The Sudanese politicians, speaking to the press on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said the strike took place in a remote area of east Sudan but did not say who carried it out.
Sudanese State Minister Mabrouk Mubarak Saleem, meanwhile, was quoted by the Paris-based Sudan Tribune website stating a “major power bombed small trucks carrying arms, burning all of them.”
The strike “killed Sudanese, Eritreans and Ethiopians, and injured others,” Saleem said.
Saleem later, in an interview with the Arab satellite network Al Jazeera, claimed the airstrike was carried out by the U.S., not Israel, and that it killed 800 people, all civilians. He also told Al Jazeera that the targeted trucks were filled with people and did not contain weapons.
The two anonymous Sudanese politicians speaking to the media, meanwhile, provided a much different picture of the strike than Saleem.
One politician was quoted stating: “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.”
The politician said the targeted route, in a desert region northwest of Port Sudan on the Red Sea cost, was regularly used by groups smuggling weapons into Egypt.
“Everyone knows they are smuggling weapons to the southern part of Egypt,” he said.
Following Israel’s 22-day offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the U.S. and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding in which the two committed to working together to curb Hamas rearmament. The understanding includes patrols of the Persian Gulf, Sudan and neighboring states.
One of Israel’s main goals for its offensive was to halt Hamas’ ability to smuggle weapons across the Egypt-Gaza border.
In January, WND reported the U.S. Navy was conducting covert operations aimed at intercepting Iranian ships carrying weapons to rearm Hamas in the Gaza Strip. One such ship was reportedly snagged Jan. 19.
According to informed Israeli defense sources, aside from patrolling the seas, the U.S. also sent the Army’s Corps of Engineers to the Egyptian Sinai desert, bringing with them advanced machinery to help Egyptian troops locate weapons smuggling tunnels that snake along the Egypt-Gaza border.
WND in January broke the story Egyptian troops were undergoing training in Texas on the use of American military technology to uncover Hamas’ weapons smuggling tunnels. A top Egyptian intelligence official told WND the Egyptian troops were undergoing private courses on the use of proprietary, secretive U.S. technology that makes use of sonar and certain frequencies to locate underground tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border.
The WND story was referenced in scores of Arab-language articles, including an article in the state-run Egyptian media, which did not deny the report.
Israel is hoping to negotiate an international monitoring mechanism it hopes will stop Hamas from smuggling weapons from neighboring Egypt into Gaza. But previous international monitors stationed along the Egypt-Gaza border fled their duty and repeatedly failed to stem Hamas’ weapons smuggling.
The monitors were stationed at the border following Israel’s 2005 evacuation of the Gaza Strip.