Sudan said on Friday it believed Israel was behind two attacks on suspected smugglers which killed up to 40 people in the remote north of the country in January and February.
"The first thought is that it was the Americans that did it. We contacted the Americans and they categorically denied they were involved," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig said. "We are still trying to verify it. Most probably it involved Israel."
Sadig said Sudan was gathering evidence at the site, and would not react to the attacks while the investigation was ongoing. He added that the convoys were likely smuggling goods, but not weapons.
The New York Times reported Friday that Israeli warplanes attacked a convoy of trucks in Sudan in January to block a suspected arms delivery to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, while a Sudanese official called it an American "act of genocide."
The newspaper’s website quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying Israel carried out the attack, in which many people were killed, to stop weapons being transported to Hamas during Israel’s 22-day assault of Gaza.
Israeli officials refused to confirm or deny the attack, but intelligence analysts noted that the strike was consistent with other measures Israel had taken to secure its borders.
Although the airstrike was carried out two months ago, it was not publicized until Sudanese officials said Thursday that a convoy of trucks in the remote eastern part of Sudan was bombed by what they called “American fighters,” killing dozens.
According to the New York Times, the Sudanese officials said the reports were only just emerging because it took time to fully investigate the strike.
Rabie Atti, a spokesman of the Sudanese government, gave a death toll in the attack that was higher than the 39 mentioned in other reports.
Rabie told the New York Times by telephone from Khartoum that “more than 100 people” had been killed in the air raid. He said the trucks that were bombed were not carrying weapons. “I’ve heard this allegation, but it’s not true,” he said. “It was a genocide, committed by U.S. forces.”
An accusation from one government official that the attack was an American "act of genocide" raised the possibility that the Sudanese were lashing out because the International Criminal Court had issued a warrant for the arrest of their president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, on war-crimes charges in the conflict in Darfur.
When asked how he knew the forces were American, Rabie said: “We don’t differentiate between the U.S. and Israel. They are all one.”
Two American officials who are privy to classified intelligence assessments said that intelligence reports suggested that an operative with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps had gone to Sudan to coordinate the smuggling of arms to Gaza.
The area where the attack occurred, near Port Sudan on the Red Sea, is an isolated patch of eastern Sudan near the Egyptian border and a notorious smuggling route, populated mostly by nomads and known as one of the poorest, least developed parts of a very poor, underdeveloped country.
Vince Crawley, a spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command, said American forces had not bombed Sudan.
“The U.S. military has not conducted any airstrikes, fired any missiles or undertaken any combat operations in or around Sudan since October 2008, when U.S. Africa Command formally became responsible for U.S. military action in Africa,” he said.
The American officials who described the Israeli role declined to be identified because they were discussing classified information and were not authorized to speak for the Obama administration.
One American military official said the January strike was one of a series of Israeli attacks against arms shipments bound for Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Thursday that Israel acted "wherever we can" to strike at its enemies, but did not specifically mention the attack in Sudan.
"There’s no point getting into details — everyone can use his imagination. The fact is, whoever needs to know, knows. Whoever needs to know, knows there is no place where the state of Israel cannot act," the outgoing premier said.
Israeli forces pounded Gaza for three weeks in January, which they said was to halt rocket attacks by Palestinian fighters and destroy underground tunnels. Israel killed over 1,300 Palestinians during its assault, mainly civilians. Thirteen Israelis, mainly soldiers, were killed.
Shlomo Brom, a retired general at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said it would be “very logical” to assume that Israel would have wanted to bomb a weapons convoy in Sudan.
“It fits exactly with the pattern of how Israel operates,” he told the New York Times.
Israel signed an agreement with the U.S. in January that pledged international efforts to choke off arms smuggling. It has accused Iran of being a main weapons supplier to Gaza.
Reports from Sudan quoted a lone survivor of the attack as saying two planes flew over the convoy then came back and shot up the "four or five" trucks.
Israel has a history of attacking enemies far from its territory.
Israeli Air Force planes destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981, and in 2007 they destroyed a site in Syria that Israeli and American intelligence analysts said was a partly constructed nuclear reactor. Israel never officially acknowledged that it was responsible for the Syrian strike.
(Alarabiya.net and Agencies)