CAIRO (AP) — Sudanese officials said foreign warplanes launched two separate airstrikes last month on Sudan near its border with Egypt, targeting convoys packed with light weapons and African migrants trying to sneak across the frontier.
Just who was behind the strikes remains a mystery, but the U.S. and Israel immediately came under suspicion.
Mubarak Mabrook Saleem, Sudan's State Minister for Transportation, told The Associated Press he believed American planes were behind the bombings about a week apart in early February and claimed hundreds were killed. A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed his account but said there were discrepancies on casualties. The U.S. denied any airstrike on Sudan.
Arab and U.S. media reports said Israel was behind the attacks because the convoys were smuggling weapons to Egypt destined for Gaza. The militant Hamas, which rules Gaza, smuggles weapons in through tunnels along the Egyptian border.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted Thursday at possible Israeli involvement.
"We operate everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure — in close places, in places further away, everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure, we hit them and we hit them in a way that increases deterrence," he said at an academic conference.
"It was true in the north in a series of incidents and it was true in the south, in a series of incidents," he added. There is no point in going into detail, and everybody can use their imagination. Those who need to know, know. And those who need to know, know that there is no place where Israel cannot operate. There is no such place."
Asked specifically about the report, Israeli officials would not confirm or deny them.
The allegations come as Sudan is under scrutiny after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on March 4 for the country's president Omar al-Bashir. He's accused by the court of orchestrating a counterinsurgency against Darfur rebels that has involved rapes, killings and other atrocities against civilians. Sudan denies the charges.
A new Egyptian newspaper, al-Shurooq, was the first to report on Saleem saying two convoys trying to cross into Egypt were bombed by American jets. It said there were suspicions that the convoys carried weapons for Gaza.
According to Saleem, the first strike hit 16 vehicles carrying 200 people from various African countries being smuggled across the border. It also carried some "light weapons" such as Kalashnikovs, he said.
In the second attack on Feb. 11, he said 18 vehicles were hit and they were only carrying immigrants, not weapons. He claimed several hundred people were killed in each bombing and said the first strike was about a week before the Feb. 11 attack, but did not give a date.
"The technology used in the attacks was so sophisticated, they must have been American," Saleem said. "This is the first time such an incident happens."
A Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ali Youssef, confirmed the airstrikes.
"The incident took place," Youssef said. "There are discrepancies in casualties." He said the Sudanese government will soon release a statement to clarify what it knows.
The U.S. military denied any recent airstrikes in or around Sudan.
"The U.S. military has not conducted any airstrikes, fired any missiles, or undertaken any combat operations in or around Sudan since the U.S. Africa Command formally began operations Oct. 1," said Vince Crawley, a spokesman for the command.
Israel has long accused Iran of supplying Hamas with weapons and ammunition and has speculated that one route would be through Sudan.
In January, the U.S. signed an agreement with Israel calling for an international effort to stanch the flow of weapons to the Hamas, which trains them on Israel. Israel's war in Gaza earlier this year was launched to stop near-daily rocket attacks on nearby Israeli communities and to stem the arms flow.
In recent years, Israel has been linked to an airstrike in Syria that the U.S. says destroyed a covert nuclear facility. It also has been accused to last year's assassination of a top Hezbollah operative in a car bombing in Damascus. Israel has not confirmed either incident.
Saleem said both airstrikes came around 2 a.m. and in very foggy conditions in a barren, desert area.
He acknowledged that both weapons and people are smuggled through Sudan to Egypt.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Deng Alor, who accompanied Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on a visit to Egypt Wednesday, denied Sudan supplies Hamas with weapons and said he had no information about the strikes.
An Egyptian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said a weapons deal for Gaza was foiled before it reached Egypt.
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