JERUSALEM (Feb. 8)
The Israel Navy intercepted a merchant ship bound from Cyprus to Lebanon Friday and seized 50 El Fatah terrorists on board. A senior Naval officer said Sunday that the action clearly averted a series of terrorist attacks and sabotage attempts against Israel.
The 400-ton Maria R., which flew the Honduran flag and is owned in Lebanon, was en route from Larnaca to Khalde in Lebanon. It was halted about 65 miles from the coast because it appeared to be carrying far more people than the normal crew for a ship of that size.
The Egyptian captain offered no resistance and allowed Israeli sailors to board and search his vessel. They questioned the eight-member crew and the “passengers,” all of whom were found to be carrying forged passports. The latter acknowledged being members of the Palestine Liberation Organization, several of them officers in El Fatah.
They said they were carrying medical supplies for refugee camps in Lebanon. But no medical material was found in the vessel. The terrorists were transferred to a Navy craft and brought to Israel for further questioning. There was no announcement about the crew, but it is assumed the ship was allowed to proceed.
FOILED A NUMBER OF SABOTAGE ATTEMPTS
“Assuming there are some five members in a terrorist squad, this has foiled a number of sabotage attempts against Israel,” the senior Navy officer said. Israeli officials believe that the Navy has forestalled at least 20 sabotage attempts in the last two years by intercepting terrorists at sea.
Israel insisted Sunday that it has not established a blockade of the Lebanese coast. But it is watching the sea lanes between Cyprus and Lebanon. Last month, the Israel Navy stopped two Cypriot car ferries at sea, en route to the Lebanese port of Junich, on suspicion that terrorists were aboard. None was found but the vessels were ordered to return to Cyprus.
The seizure of 50 terrorists indicated that Cyprus has become an embarkation point for PLO people attempting to reach Lebanon.