Iran denies Israeli charge
Iran yesterday rejected as "baseless and a sheer lie" an Israeli allegation that Syrian planes which flew earthquake relief aid to Iran had returned with weapons for Lebanese Hizbollah guerillas.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the accusation was prompted by Israeli anger over the flood of humanitarian aid sent to its arch foe Iran after the Bam quake, including from Israel's staunchest ally the United States.
"After the Israelis observed the... world's solidarity with the Iranian nation they became angry and they're continuing their policy based on lies and cheating by fabricating such news," he told Reuters.
He said the accusation was "baseless and a sheer lie." Syrian officials had no immediate comment. Israeli sources said Syrian planes delivering aid for victims of the December 26 Bam earthquake, which killed over 30,000 people, brought back missiles and other weapons for Hizbollah to Damascus where the arms were trucked to Lebanon.
Shi'ite Muslim Hizbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, spearheaded a guerrilla campaign that led to Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 after a 22-year occupation.
Iran is officially opposed to the existence of Israel but denies arming and funding militant groups opposed to the Jewish state and says it only provides them with moral support.
"Shipments to Hizbollah had been suspended because Washington has been keeping a close eye on Syria since the war in Iraq began (in March)," one of the Israeli sources said.
The security sources said US intelligence was also aware of the alleged Syrian operation.
The allegation, first reported by state-owned Israeli television, could help Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cold-shoulder any US or domestic calls to resume peace talks with Syria over the future of the occupied Golan Heights.
Since the pullout, the group has carried out sporadic attacks against Israeli forces at Shebaa Farms, an area which Hizbollah says is Lebanese territory and the United Nations calls Israeli-occupied Syrian land.
US-sponsored peace talks between Israel and Syria collapsed in 2000 over the issue of how much of the Golan, seized in the 1967 Middle East war, would be returned.