Jennifer Griffin, Fox News, Jerusalem
January 7, 2002
Omar Akawi flashes a victory sign as he’s led from his Israeli prison cell. But his latest mission on behalf of the Palestinians was hardly a victory. Israeli navy seals commandeered Akawi’s ship in the Red Sea five days ago, busting this Palestinian naval police officer for smuggling 50 tons of mortars, rockets, guns and ammunition. Israel says the weapons were en route to the Palestinian areas from Iran – evidence they say that Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority is preparing to broaden its war against Israel, dspite Arafat’s call for a ceasefire.
Palestinian officials have denied knowledge of the shipment, but in an interview inside Israel’s Ashkelon prison the ship’s captain confirmed the weapons were destined for the Palestinians. He told Fox News one of Arafat’s top aides ordered him to pick up the shipment off the coast of Iran.
Q: Who gave you your orders?
A: "I am an officer in the navy. I am an employee of the Palestinian Authority. I take my salary from them."
Akawi says he got his instructions from Adel Awadallah – a senior member of Arafat’s Palestinian Authority who purchased the ship in Lebanon.
Q: Could he have been acting on his own?
A: "I don’t know. I don’t think so. One time I asked him why you are doing this and he said I am doing it for Palestine."
Q: What did you think the weapons were going to be used for?
A: "It is for the Palestinian people to protect themselves."
Q: Who sent the weapons?
A: "I believe it was from Hizbullah" – the Iranian financed Shiite Muslim Party of God in Lebanon. Akawi says he picked the weapons up off the coast of Iran. The plan was to deliver the cargo to a port in Egypt where they would be transferred to smaller boats and deposited off the coast of Gaza. "Some small vessels they have to come alongside me and take it from me. I know they had to go to Palestine."
In mid-December after the shipment was already en route Arafat gave an order on Palestinian television for all militant activity to stop.
Q: There was a ceasefire in December were you given any orders to stop?
A: "I expected to receive an order to stop."
Q: Did anyone order you to stop.
Q: Have you been involved in other weapons smuggling operations?
A: "I have been involved, but it failed."
Q: Why did you do it?
A: "I’m a soldier. I have to obey orders."
Akawi talked to us in the presence of his Israeli interrogators. He says he decided to speak to us to send a message to his wife and daughter that he is OK. "Tell my wife to take care of my daughter. I want to convey my message to my daughter – try to know you have a homeland – it’s name is Palestine."
||Seizing of the Palestinian weapons ship Karine A – Jan 4, 2002|