President Michel Suleiman hailed on Saturday the interception of a ship suspected of delivering weapons to Syria as the Lebanese army issued a statement confirming the incident.
“The army intercepted on Friday Sierra Leone-flagged Lutfallah II ship suspected of carrying weapons and ammunition to Syria,” the statement said.
The army noted that it seized 3 containers containing large quantity of heavy, medium and light ammunition.
“The ship was intercepted and the 11 crew members of various Arab and foreign nationalities were detained,” the statement said, adding that the military police opened an investigation under the supervision of the competent judicial authority.
The vessel, "Lutfallah II", was stopped by the navy off Lebanon's northern coast on Friday and towed to a port near the city of Batroun.
Newspapers on Saturday slammed the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon for not play a role in intercepting the ship.
Military sources questioned in comments to As Safir newspaper how the ship could have possibly passed by the UNIFIL naval vessels that are deployed along the Lebanese shore and which are “primarily responsible for uncovering arms smuggling to Lebanon.”
Security sources also wondered if the ship passed by the Israeli navy, which also did not lift a finger to intercept it, knowing that it had detained a ship on April 22 on suspicion that it was smuggling arms from Beirut to Alexandria and later to the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, al-Akhbar newspaper refuted As Safir’s report, saying that the army had intercepted the ship in cooperation with UNIFIL.
Other security sources however refused to speculate if the weapons were in fact headed to Syria, saying that all sides must await the results of the investigation.
State commissioner to the military court Judge Saqr Saqr ordered on Saturday that the 11-member crew be held for further questioning.
Saqr requested that the military police and army intelligence to launch the preliminary investigations.
A security official told Agence France Presse Friday however that the shipment was indeed being delivered to Syria’s rebel army.
The President said later that it is part of the Lebanese state’s decision to prevent the country from being an open ground for the disputes of others.
He added that the achievement is part of “efforts to preserve internal civil peace.”
He lauded the importance of the army and security forces to this end, stressing that they should “remain completely vigilant to deter any attempt to create strife or instability in Lebanon or affect its ties with nearby fraternal states given the situation in the region.”
The military sources told As Safir that a search of the vessel found three containers carrying a number of Kalashnikov and M16 rifles, as well as RPGs.
It also uncovered antiaircraft weapons and TNT explosives.
The ship crew has been arrested and they were referred to army intelligence in al-Qobbeh in the northern city of Tripoli.
The ship has meanwhile been taken to Salaata port where the rest of its cargo has been unloaded and transported to the Jounieh naval base.
The ship was coming from the Egyptian port of Alexandria and was headed to Tripoli.
Tele Liban reported that the ship had first sailed from Libya ahead of arriving at Alexandria and that it is owned by Syrian national Mohammed Khafaja.
It said shipping agent Ahmed Bernard was arrested. The TV network said the ship sailed from Libya under the guise of carrying engines and oils.
The National News Agency reported on Saturday that Bernard and the ten-member crew of the ship have been referred to the judiciary.
Syrian authorities have repeatedly charged that weapons were being smuggled from Lebanon into Syria to assist rebels seeking the ouster of President Bashar Assad.
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