Israel's fear over Palestinian arms

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The Independent Online
ISRAEL suspects Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority is stocking up on weapons in case the failing peace process disintegrates into violent clashes between the two security forces, writes Eric Silver in Jerusalem.

Israel's suspicions were bolstered after Israeli soldiers captured a Palestinian smuggler ferrying two rubber dinghies of arms and ammunition across the Dead Sea from Jordan on Friday night. The massive haul included 60 Kalashinkov and M-16 rifles, seven hunting rifles, 39 pistols and dozens of boxes of bullets.

The Palestinian leader has repeatedly threatened a return to armed confrontation if Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government fails to honour its commitment to hand over more of the West Bank to Palestinian rule. The paramilitary Palestinian police number about 30,000 men, but Israel controls the legal import of light weapons via Jordan and Egypt.

The chief of Israel's central command, Major-General Uzi Dayan, said they were investigating the possibility that the consignment was destined for the Palestinian Authority. One officer said the shipment was "too much and too well-organised" for mere criminals or Islamic extremists. The smuggler came ashore at Ein Fashkha, barely 10 miles from Jericho, headquarters of the Palestinians' West Bank security forces.

According to Israeli soldiers, the boatman surrendered without a struggle. He is said to be a known smuggler, but his identity was not disclosed.

The Jordanian army was combing the eastern shore. On Saturday five of its officers crossed the water to inspect the cache, and a commander con-firmed that the two forces were working together. This was welcomed by Israelis as a renewal of security co-operation facilitated by the resignation last week of the head of the Mossad secret service, General Danny Yatom, whom King Hussein blamed for the bungled attempt to assassinate a Hamas leader in Amman last September.