ABC News’ Luis Martinez reports: Israel has conducted three military strikes against targets in Sudan since January in an effort to prevent what were believed to be Iranian weapons shipments from reaching Hamas in the Gaza Strip, ABC News has learned.
Earlier this week, CBSNews.com was the first to report that Israel had conducted an airstrike in January against a convoy carrying weapons north into Egypt to be smuggled into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
But actually, since January, Israel has conducted a total of three military strikes against smugglers transporting what were believed to be Iranian weapons shipments destined for Gaza, a U.S. official told ABC News.
The information matches recent reports from Sudanese officials of two airstrikes in the desert of eastern Sudan and the sinking of a ship in the Red Sea carrying weapons.
Jonathan Peled, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, would only say, "No comment," when contacted by ABC News on the matter.
Sudanese officials initially said this week that 39 people riding in 17 trucks were killed in a mid-January airstrike conducted by an unidentified aircraft in a desert area north of the Red Sea port of Port Sudan.
Today, a Sudanese Foreign Ministry representative said there were two separate bombing raids against smugglers in January and February. The Sudanese minister for highways was more specific, saying the airstrikes took place Jan. 27 and Feb. 11.
Arabic broadcaster Al-Jazeera also reported today a Sudanese official’s claim that Israel had sunk a ship carrying weapons.
Israeli officials continue to refuse to confirm or deny the reports of airstrikes, but Thursday Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, “Israel hits every place it can in order to stop terror, near and far."
In January, the United States signed an agreement with Israel to stop arms smuggling into Gaza. At the time, Israel was conducting a military operation in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Hamas’ firing of rockets on Israeli towns.
Shortly after the agreement was signed, the U.S. Navy twice boarded a Cypriot ship in the Red Sea that was traveling from Iran to Syria and believed to be carrying Iranian weapons bound for Hamas.
After the boardings were inconclusive, the United States asked Egypt and Cyprus to search the vessel when it made ports of call. Cypriot authorities ultimately found material that could be used to manufacture munitions, which they described as a violation of the U.N. ban on Iranian arms exports.