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FRANCOP arms ship
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Lebanese authorities probe Israeli-intercepted arms ship
Ship intercepted by Israel Navy commandos this week for carrying hundreds of tons of Iranian weapons destined for Hezbollah arrives at Beirut port, searched by army in cooperation with UN naval forces to 'ensure it does not carry banned goods'; crew interrogated

A ship intercepted by Israel for carrying Iranian weapons destined for Hezbollah entered on Friday Lebanese waters where authorities are questioning its crew, the army said.

 

"The FRANCOP ship entered Lebanese territorial waters at noon today and, upon its arrival off Beirut port, the navy in cooperation with UN naval forces searched the vessel," an army statement said.

 

"Military intelligence began interrogating the crew on the motives for the seizure of the vessel while the concerned authorities... will take all the necessary measures to ensure it does not carry banned goods," it said.

 

Israel said the ship which it intercepted overnight Wednesday was carrying hundreds of tons of weapons.

 

The arsenal included rockets, grenades and ammunition which Tehran was sending to Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah militia, a sworn enemy of the Jewish state, according to Israel.

 

A UN Security Council resolution which brought an end to the devastating 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel demanded the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon and imposed a ban on all arms exports to them.

 

Iran denied any link to the ship -- an Antigua-flagged vessels seized by Israeli naval commandos around 100 nautical miles from the Israeli coast.

 

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Hezbollah also denied any link to "the weapons that the Zionist enemy claims it confiscated from the ship." In addition, the terrorist organization condemned "the Israeli pirates operating in international waters."

  

Israeli media reported the military tracked the containers from Iran to the Egyptian port of Damietta, where they were transferred onto the German-owned "FRANCOP" vessel en route to Syria.

 

"The quantity of arms seized on the weapons ship Francop is 10 times or even more than the quantity of weapons on the Karin-A ship," Israel Deputy Navy Chief Brig. Gen. Rani Ben-Yehuda told reporters during a briefing Wednesday at the naval base in Ashdod.

 

According to Brig. Gen. Ben-Yehuda, the weapons were hidden in dozens of containers with a collective weight registering in at hundreds of tons. The weapons included enough ammunition and missiles to supply Hezbollah for a month or more of fighting against Israel, he said. Navy sources said the ship carried more than 3,000 shells and missiles.

 

Israel views Iran as its main strategic threat because of Tehran's support for Hezbollah and Palestinian militants, its leader's frequent predictions of the demise of the Jewish state and its nuclear enrichment program.

 

Hanan Greenberg contributed to the report 

 

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