BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Syria arms ship impounded, crew held for questioning

BEIRUT: Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr ordered Saturday that the 11-member crew of  the "Lutfallah II" ship with weapons bound for Syria be held for questioning, sources close to the matter said.

The sources told The Daily Star that the Sierra Leonean-flagged ship was carrying light, medium and heavy weaponry.

Saqr requested that the military police question the suspects and find out at which port the arms were loaded and to whom they were to be delivered.

In a statement released Saturday, the Lebanese army confirmed the confiscation of weapons on board the ship.

"The army intercepted Friday off the northern coast the Sierra Leonean-flagged commercial vessel "Lutfallah II”; the army and relevant authorities inspected the vessel and confiscated three containers with a large quantity of assorted arms as well as heavy, medium and light ammunition."

The statement added that the eleven detained crew members are of various Arab and foreign nationalities.

President Michel Sleiman praised the army Saturday for seizing the ship, saying the measure is part of preserving civil peace and a translation into action of the Lebanese state's decision to prevent the country from becoming an arena of conflict for others or a conduit for settling accounts.

According to his press office, Sleiman also stressed the importance of keeping the army and security forces alert to ward off risks that might incite strife, disturb stability, or adversely affect Lebanon's relationship with its neighbors.

Lutfallah II, headed for Syria, was impounded by Lebanese authorities and transported to the Lebanese Navy base in Beirut port Saturday, after having been intercepted in Lebanese waters Friday and forced to dock at Salaata port.

The ship had left Libya for the Egyptian port of Alexandria and was on its way to Syria when it entered Lebanese waters.

The Lebanese Navy intercepted the vessel and directed it to Salaata in the north, whereupon an inspection of its cargo was carried out and weapons were discovered.

The owner of the ship is a Syrian identified as Mohammad Khafaja and its Lebanese agent is Ahmad Bernard. Khafaja and Bernard have been arrested, as has the customs agent tasked with unloading the ship's contents -- listed as engine oil.

The ship was transported Saturday to Beirut port accompanied by three Navy vessels. There is no confirmation on whether the ship intended to dock in Lebanon.

Syrian authorities have repeatedly charged that weapons are being smuggled from Lebanon into Syria to assist rebels seeking the ouster of President Bashar Assad.

 

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