Greece Refuses to Host US Weapons Shipment to Israel
Meanwhile, the US has been forced to cancel a weapons shipment to Israel after the Greek government refused to allow it to pass through its ports. The US says it will seek an alternative site.
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 15 January 2009
The Pentagon has suspended the delivery of a shipload of munitions to Israel after international concern that it could be used by Israeli forces in Gaza.
The German-owned cargo vessel, Wehr Elbe, under charter by the US Military Sea lift Command, is currently in Greek waters with its transponder tracking turned off to prevent its location being identified.
Amnesty International has written to the foreign secretary, David Miliband, asking him to make “urgent approaches to the US, German and Greek governments to prevent this, or any pending or future shipments of weaponry until it can be verified that they will not be transferred to the Israeli Defence Forces or other parties to the conflict in Gaza.
“We urge you to ensure that no EU member state will allow their ports or other facilities to be used to transit these or any other weapons to any of the parties to this conflict.”
The Wehr Elbe, owned by the Hamburg company Oskar Wehr, arrived outside the Greek port of Astakos on 1 January, where it was due to transfer its 1,000 containers to another vessel for delivery to Ashdod in Israel.
But after a two week stand-off, amid local protests in Greece, it moved out into the Mediterranean two days ago and disappeared off tracking websites.
Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the contract for the munitions had been arranged last summer and approved in October. He said the munitions were due to be delivered to a US pre-positioning depot in Israel for US forces. But he added: “If the government of Israel requests munitions they can do so direct to the US government under the Foreign Military Sales programme.”
He said the ship’s journey had been delayed due to “safety concerns” about unloading the cargo at Ashdod and that other arrangements were being made by the Military Sealift Command’s European office in Naples.
The letter to Miliband, from Amnesty’s director, Kate Allen, calls “for a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and Palestinian armed groups until effective mechanisms are in place to ensure that weapons and munitions and other military equipment will not be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law”.
Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme director, Malcolm Smart, said: “The last thing that is needed now is more weapons and munitions in the region, which is awash with arms that are being used in a manner which contravenes international law and is having a devastating effect on the civilian population in Gaza.”
ATHENS/WASHINGTON, Jan 13 (Reuters) – Greece’s opposition accused the ruling conservatives on Tuesday of allowing U.S. arms shipments to Israel via a Greek port for over a year, despite the government’s denials.
The U.S. military said on Monday it cancelled the shipment of 325 containers of ammunition from the western Greek port of Astakos to a U.S. stockpile in Israel, citing safety concerns at the Israeli port of destination due to the conflict in Gaza.
However, a Pentagon spokesman said on Tuesday the transport had been cancelled at the request of the Greek government. Reports of the shipment had provoked a media outcry in Greece, where Israel’s 18-day-old offensive in Gaza is deeply unpopular.
“I think the Greek government has some issue with the offloading of some of that shipment in their country and we are finding alternative means of getting that entire shipment to its proper destination in Israel,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
He said the decision to replenish the stockpile, which can be accessed by Israel with U.S. permission, had been taken long before the outbreak of the Gaza conflict. Morrell said he did not know if Israel currently had access to the weapons cache.
Greece’s opposition PASOK party submitted questions to parliament asking whether U.S. arms shipments to Israel via Astakos, which it said dated back to September 2007, had been approved by the government.
“Did the foreign ministry and other relevant ministries approve these shipments or was Greek and international law replaced by practices that weaken the sovereignty of this country?” read the PASOK statement.
Greece’s Communist party and a left-wing coalition have called demonstrations at Astakos for Wednesday and Thursday.
PASOK said the alleged shipments were organised by a Greek-based detachment of the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command with the permission of Greek authorities. It called for all the related documentation to be made public.
Greece’s ruling New Democracy party has said in recent days it has not allowed supplies to the Israeli army to pass through Greece. It went further on Tuesday by saying it had not given permission for any U.S. arms shipments bound for Israel.
“The Greek side didn’t allow such a transport,” said government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros, asked about the latest cargo. A shipping tender issued on Dec. 31 by the U.S. military, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, showed the destination of the cargo was the Israeli port of Ashdod.
Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry say 971 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive which Israel launched on Dec. 27 with the stated aim of ending militant rocket fire from Gaza. On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and three civilians hit by Hamas rockets have died. (Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou in Athens and Stefano Ambrogi in London, editing by Mark Trevelyan)