msnbc.com news services
updated 3/29/2005 5:20:57 AM ET 2005-03-29T10:20:57

Palestinians have smuggled anti-aircraft missiles into the Gaza Strip that might be moved to the West Bank and used against commercial aircraft flying over central Israel, Israeli security sources said on Tuesday. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the cabinet earlier in the week that Israel had asked the Palestinian Authority to locate several Soviet-designed Strela missiles now in the Gaza Strip, the sources said.

“If they don’t, then we will have to do it,” one of the sources quoted Mofaz as saying.

He also told the cabinet that members of the Palestinian Military Intelligence security branch had helped militants smuggle the shoulder-fired Strelas into Gaza through tunnels under the occupied territory’s border with Egypt.

“They have crossed a red line,” Mofaz was quoted as saying.

The Palestinian Authority denied Mofaz’s accusations.

The security sources said there was concern the missiles could be moved to the West Bank and used against planes landing at or taking off from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, where flight paths veer close to the West Bank.

The heat-seeking Strela missiles are capable of shooting down aircraft within a 3-mile range.

In 2002, al-Qaida militants fired two Strela missiles at an Israeli airliner taking off from Mombassa, Kenya, but missed. Israel has since said it installed anti-missile devices on some of its commercial planes.

In other developments:

  • Israel's parliament swept aside another potential obstacle Monday to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, overwhelmingly rejecting a proposal for holding a national referendum on the pullout.
  • Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia sharply criticized the United States after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated support for Israel’s plans to keep large Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank. “This (U.S.) policy is completely incomprehensible,” Qureia told reporters Monday.
  • Israeli troops arrested eight supporters of the militant Islamic Jihad group in the West Bank on suspicion they were trying to build rockets. One soldier was slightly hurt by an explosive device thrown at troops during the raid in the town of Jenin.
  • In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas held talks Sunday with leaders of Islamic Jihad on the terms of the participation of militant groups in the PLO. Such participation was agreed upon in principle in a meeting between Abbas and opposition factions earlier this month in Cairo.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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