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Israel Says It Seized Iran-Dispatched Arms Ship to Gaza

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Israel said its navy seized a ship carrying Syrian-made rockets from Iran that were destined for militants in the Gaza Strip.

The Panamanian-flagged KLOS-C was commandeered off the coast of Sudan and Eritrea, after it departed the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas carrying dozens of M-302 rockets, the Israeli military said. The vessel was headed for Port Sudan, where the weapons were to be unloaded and smuggled overland into Gaza, the military said, releasing photos and footage of weapons it said were aboard the ship.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the cargo was proof of Iran’s intentions at a time when it’s trying to negotiate a nuclear deal with world powers. While “Iran smiles and says all sorts of nice things, the same Iran is sending deadly weapons to terrorist organizations,” he said in a statement during a visit to the U.S.

Gaza is ruled by Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union. The Gaza Interior Ministry called the Israeli announcements an attempt “to justify the siege Israel is imposing on the Gaza strip.” Iran’s state-run Fars news agency carried a denial of involvement from an unidentified person at armed forces headquarters.

‘Gross Violation’

The U.S. military and intelligence services co-ordinated with Israel over the action, Jay Carney, President Barack Obama’s spokesman, told reporters in Washington, describing the arms shipment as a “gross violation” of Iran’s international obligations.

The ship commandeered today was the fourth Israel has intercepted at sea carrying arms from Iran to Gaza. The army said that the rockets aboard have a range of as much as 125 miles (200 kilometers) and could threaten “strategic locations such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s coastal gas field.”

The choice of weapons manufactured in Syria was “an Iranian attempt to bring weapons to Gaza without leaving Iranian fingerprints on them,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in Tel Aviv.

Israel’s TA-25 benchmark stock index and the shekel were little changed.

Earlier in the day, Israel’s army opened fire over the Golan Heights frontier with Syria, saying it was targeting militants affiliated with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group who were trying to plant a bomb.

Syria said Israel fired eight rockets and machine guns in the direction of a school and a mosque, in violation of a 1974 truce, injuring 11 people.

The Golan, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967, has remained largely quiet since that accord, even during the past three years when Syria has been engulfed in civil war. Hezbollah is fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict.

To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavid@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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