KHARTOUM - Sudan said yesterday that foreign warplanes carried out a deadly strike on an arms convoy headed for Gaza in January as Israel refused to comment on reports that it was responsible.
U.S. television network CBS said 39 people were killed in the strike which came hot on the heels of Israel's devastating three-week offensive against the Islamist rulers of Gaza at the turn of the year.
"A convoy of vehicles carrying illegal weapons was bombed near the Sudanese-Egyptian border in mid-January," state transport minister Mabruk Mubarak Saleem told AFP, adding that several people had been killed. Saleem later told Al-Jazeera satellite television that the weapons were headed for Gaza.
Israel refuses to comment
The U.S. television network CBS said that it was Israeli aircraft that carried out the attack on the 17 trucks killing 39 people. It cited Pentagon sources as denying earlier reports that the warplanes were American. However, the Israeli army refused to confirm or deny any involvement. "We are not in the habit of reacting to this sort of report," an army spokesman said.
In a speech later in the day in the coastal town of Herzliya, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said "we operate in many places near and far, and carry out strikes in a manner that strengthens our deterrence."
"We operate anywhere we can target terror infrastructure. There is no point in going into details, anyone can use his imagination."
In Israel, the airstrike dominated news coverage on both public and army radios and all the main papers. Haaretz daily cited security sources as saying that an international network had been set up in which smugglers moved arm caches from Iran through the Gulf to Yemen, across the Red Sea to Sudan and then on through Egypt to Gaza. "If the reports are true, the bombing in Sudan was an important message of deterrence from Israel to Iran," the paper said.
"The timing of the operation - not long after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza - is indicative of the importance which Israel places in its execution," it said. "If the powers that be decide that it is worth taking the risk and striking targets some 1,400 kilometres (900 miles) outside of Israel's borders, then it would appear that Israel believed Iran is seeking to supply Gaza with significant armaments."