Israel: North sent weapons to militants

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Israel: North sent weapons to militants

TOKYO - Israel’s foreign minister claimed yesterday that North Korean weapons aboard a plane seized in Bangkok in December were bound for Middle Eastern militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said during a visit to Japan that North Korea, Syria and Iran are cooperating as a new “axis of evil” and pose the biggest threat to world security because they are building and spreading weapons of mass destruction.

“We saw this kind of cooperation only two or maybe three months ago with the North Korean plane in Bangkok with huge numbers of different weapons with the intention to smuggle these weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah,” Lieberman told reporters.

Acting on a tip from the United States, Thai authorities on Dec. 12 seized an Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang when it landed in Bangkok. It was carrying 35 tons of weapons - a violation of UN sanctions against North Korea.

Flight documents indicated the plane’s cargo - listed as oil drilling equipment - was headed for Tehran, Iran. Iranian officials denied they were importing weapons.

The five-man crew from Kazakhstan and Belarus claimed they didn’t know what they were carrying. The crew was deported in February after prosecutors dropped all charges against them.

Analysts have said that while the aircraft may have been heading for Iran, the weapons could actually have been earmarked for radical Middle Eastern groups like Hamas and Hezbollah which Iran has bankrolled and supplied with weapons in the past.

Thai authorities say the weapons on board included explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and components for surface-to-air missiles.

Diplomats have said the movement of North Korean arms to Iran appears to have been an effort to violate UN sanctions against North Korea. Although Iran is subject to separate UN sanctions because of its nuclear program, it is not forbidden to import arms.

Pyongyang was hit with fresh UN sanctions last year to punish it for a nuclear test in May 2009, its second atomic detonation. The expanded measures are aimed at cutting off its arms sales, a vital export estimated to earn the destitute state more than $1 billion a year. North Korea’s biggest arm sales come from ballistic missiles, with Iran and other Middle Eastern states as customers, according to U.S. government officials. AP, Reuters

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