KHARTOUM, (Reuters) – Unidentified aircraft attacked a convoy of suspected arms smugglers as it drove through Sudan towards Egypt in January, killing some 30 people, two senior Sudanese politicians said yesterday.
The United States denied responsibility. An Israeli official would neither confirm nor deny it, while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would strike “in places that are nearby and not that close”, without mentioning the Sudan incident.
The Sudanese politicians, who asked not to be named, told Reuters the strike was in a desert area of east Sudan near the Egyptian border. They said they did not know who carried it out.
Media reports in Egypt and the United States have suggested it was aimed at arms smugglers bound for Hamas-ruled Gaza.
“It’s not the U.S.,” a U.S. defense official said in Washington. U.S. officials declined to comment further.
The Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “We have major problems with Sudan as a source of contraband arms. The Egyptians cannot be relied upon to patrol that big, porous border.”
Olmert said in a speech yesterday: “There’s no point getting into details — everyone can use his imagination … Whoever needs to know, knows there is no place where the state of Israel cannot act.”
Sudan’s foreign minister Deng Alor told reporters in Cairo on Wednesday he had no information on any strike.
Any public confirmation of a foreign attack would inflame opinion in Sudan, where relations with the West are already tense following the International Criminal Court’s decision this month to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of Darfur war crimes.
Bashir defied the warrant by travelling to Libya yesterday for talks with leader Muammar Gaddafi, who said last month “foreign forces” including Israel were stoking the Darfur conflict.
Sudan remains on a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, but the State Department has said it is cooperating with efforts against militant groups.
The raid took place around the time Israel was carrying out a 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip, with the declared aim of halting rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants.