March 18, 2011

AN Iranian cargo plane en route to Syria was forced to land in Turkey last night amid fears it may be carrying military or nuclear material.

The plane was being searched at Diyarbakir airport in southeastern Turkey a day after Israeli commandos operating deep in international waters boarded a ship carrying arms allegedly on their way from Iran to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

The plane, which took off yesterday from Tehran bound for the Syrian city of Aleppo, landed following an order from the Turkish foreign ministry. Two F-16 jet fighters were put on standby to intervene if the Iranian plane did not obey the orders to land, security sources said.

Anti-nuclear, biological and chemical material units of civilian defence teams took part in the inspection of the plane, Anatolia news agency reported.

In the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, military specialists were checking 39 containers on the deck of the ship Victoria to ascertain the exact amount and type of arms and munitions that they contained.
Sappers would first check for booby traps, they said.
The Liberian-flagged Victoria was intercepted late on Tuesday as it sailed about 200 nautical miles west of Israel's territorial waters. It arrived at Ashdod yesterday.

Top defence officials said earlier that its cargo included Chinese-made C704 anti-ship missiles, which would be a threat to Israeli naval patrols off the Gaza coast.
"(There are) two to four missiles, shore-to-sea missiles, of type C704, a missile with . . . a range of 35km," the deputy commander of the Israeli navy, Rear Admiral Rani Ben-Yehuda, said. "Anything within its range, of course, will find itself in danger."

Defence Minister Ehud Barak made an apparent reference to the same items. "We suspect, we think, that among the weapons there is also the beginnings of an advanced system which could affect our freedom of action along the Gaza shores," he said.

During Israel's 2006 war with Lebanon's Hezbollah, guerillas hit an Israeli warship off Beirut with an Iranian-made missile based on Chinese technology, killing four crewmen.
Israel said the Victoria had sailed from the Turkish port of Mersin, headed for Alexandria in Egypt, but that the arms originated in Iran and were destined for Gaza. "On the boat, we discovered many weapons destined for terror groups in the heart of Gaza," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We had clear evidence that the vessel was carrying weapons intended to harm Israel.

"The source of the weapons was Iran, which is trying to arm the strip," he said, adding that Tehran had sent the arms through a "relay station" - seemingly alluding to Syria.

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