Home | News    Saturday 28 March 2009

Egyptian president warned Sudan’s Bashir on arms smuggling to Gaza: report

March 27, 2009 (WASHINGTON) – The Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak personally warned his Sudanese counterpart Omer Hassan Al-Bashir this week on the growing trend of arm smuggling from Sudan, US officials told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) today.

The WSJ said that Mubarak was also echoing US complaints on the same issue who sent a formal letter demanding Sudan’s government “cease smuggling arms into Egypt”.

It is likely that the Egyptian intelligence director Omer Suleiman discussed the issue with US officials during his visit to Washington in mid-March.

On Wednesday Bashir paid a one day visit to Egypt in his second foreign trip since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him earlier this month.

This week news emerged that Israeli warplanes struck suspected arm smugglers headed towards Gaza strip in Eastern Sudan killing dozens of people.

Yesterday Sudanese officials said that there were two raids conducted, one on January 27th and the second on February 11th.

However an unnamed US official speaking to ABC network said that Israeli warplanes launched three airstrikes since January. Sudan acknowledged the bombings took place but said that the government kept it under tight wraps while investigation is complete.

Foreign ministry spokesman Ali Sadiq said there were two separate bombing raids against smugglers in a remote desert area near the Red Sea town of Port Sudan in January and February, killing about 40 people.

“First we suspected it was the United States, but we received assurances it was not them, and we are investigating other possibilities, including Israel” Sadiq told Agence France Presse (AFP).

“But there is no indication for now that it was Israel” he added.

The WSJ cited the official as saying that Washington and Cairo in the last few weeks raised with Sudan’s government their concerns that Sudan “has become a major facilitator for Gaza-bound weapons being smuggled into Egypt”.

The report said that Egyptians are particularly concerned that Sudan is becoming an arms partner of Iran and aiding Tehran in moving weapons to the militant group Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip.

Sudan today expressed skepticism that the convoy contained arms and suggested that it was part of human smuggling operation for migrants. Khartoum also denied any role in sending weapons to the Gaza strip.

Israel has yet to officially admit that it carried out the attack though its outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the government is “operating in every area in which terrorist infrastructures can be struck”.

“We are operating in locations near and far and attack in a way that strengthens and increases deterrence…..there is no point in elaborating. Everyone can use their imagination. Whoever needs to know, knows” he added.

His statements were taken by observers as a confirmation of the role played by Israel played in the bombing.

Today the London based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted unidentified Israeli officials saying that they tracked the shipment and decided to destroy it when it reached Sudan.

Sudan was picked due to its poor air defenses, political instability, bad relations with the west and the move of the ICC against Bashir, the officials said.

The US role in the operation remains unclear and Washington has declined to say whether it aided in the attack.

Retired Israeli military officers speaking to WSJ said that the attacks would likely have been impossible without American intelligence.

The US signed an agreement with Israel last January that calls for an international effort to stem the flow of weaponry and explosives to complement those of Egypt.

American and Israeli diplomats said at the time the agreement includes intelligence coordination to prevent arms from Iran from entering Gaza, maritime efforts to identify ships carrying weaponry, and the sharing of US and European technologies to discover and prevent the use of weapons-smuggling tunnels.