World Bulletin / News Desk
The U.S. is seeking to hire a merchant ship to deliver hundreds of tonnes of arms to Israel from Greece later this month, tender documents seen by Reuters show.
Israel launched on December 27 a military offensive in Gaza, killing at least 800 Palestinians, a third children.
The U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) said the ship was to carry 325 standard 20-foot containers of what is listed as "ammunition" on two separate journeys from the Greek port of Astakos to the Israeli port of Ashdod in mid-to-late January.
A "hazardous material" designation on the manifest mentions explosive substances and detonators, but no other details were given.
"Shipping 3,000-odd tonnes of ammunition in one go is a lot," one broker said, on condition of anonymity.
"This (kind of request) is pretty rare and we haven't seen much of it quoted in the market over the years," he added.
The U.S. Defense Department, contacted by Reuters on Friday in Washington, had no immediate comment.
The MSC transports armour and military supplies for the U.S. armed forces aboard its own fleet, but regularly hires merchant ships if logistics so require.
The request for the ship was made on Dec. 31, with the first leg of the charter to arrive no later than January 25 and the second at the end of the month.
The tender for the vessel follows the hiring of a commercial ship to carry a much larger consignment of ordnance in December from the United States to Israel ahead of air strikes in the Gaza Strip.
A German shipping firm which won that tender confirmed the order when contacted by Reuters but declined to comment further.
Israel violated six-month ceasefire, bombing Gaza on November 4 and killing six Palestinians. Israel killed on November 17 four more Gazans before Hamas declared the ending the ceasefire.
More than 250 children have been killed in the Gaza fighting, according to the UN.
Children make up more than half of the crowded region's 1.4 million population and are the most defenceless victims of the war between Israel and Hamas.
U.N. calls for probe
Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, also said that U.N. human rights monitors must be deployed in Israel as well as Gaza and the West Bank to document violations and their perpetrators.
"The vicious cycle of provocation and retribution must be brought to an end," she said.
Pillay was addressing a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council a day after the Security Council adopted a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the 14-day-old bombardment and a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.
"Accountability must be ensured for violations of international law. As a first step, credible, independent and transparent investigations must be carried out to identify violations and establish responsibilities," she said.
"Violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked," said Pillay, a former International Criminal Court judge from South Africa.
The masscare in Gaza, where civilians including children are among the hundreds killed, has attracted mounting international condemnation.
The United Nations said on Friday that 30 Palestinians were killed in the Zeitoun neighbourhood in central Gaza earlier this week when the Israeli army sheltered 110 civilians in a house which was later hit by shells.
Pillay said both Israel and Hamas authorities were obliged to respect three cardinal principles of international humanitarian law, embodied in the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
These were proportionality, distinction between combatants and civilians as well as military targets and civilian infrastructure, and feasible precautions to avoid or minimise incidental loss of civilian life.
Diplomats said that the Geneva rights forum was expected to adopt a draft resolution censuring Israel at the talks, which may continue into Monday.
The emergency session was called at the request of Islamic and developing countries backed by Russia, China and Cuba. The bloc enjoys a majority in the 47-member forum, in which the United States has virtually stopped participating.
Both the Palestinian and Israeli ambassadors to the U.N. in Geneva were due to address the talks.
Shipping brokers in London who have specialised in moving arms for the British and U.S. military in the past said such ship charters to Israel were rare.
A senior military analyst in London who declined to be named said that, because of the timing, the shipments could be "irregular" and linked to the Gaza offensive.
Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said he would not comment on shipping routes for security reasons but confirmed a shipment of ammunition to Israel was planned.
"The delivery of ammunition is to a pre-positioned U.S. munitions stockpile in Israel in accordance with a congressionally authorized 1990 agreement between the U.S. and Israel," Ryder said.
"This previously scheduled shipment is routine and not in support of the current situation in Gaza."
The shipment originated in the United States, Ryder said. He provided no further details on the intended cargo.
The ship hired by the MSC in December was for a much larger cargo of arms, tender documents showed.
That stipulated a ship to be chartered for 42 days capable of carrying 989 standard 20-foot containers from Sunny Point, North Carolina to Ashdod.
The tender document said the vessel had to be capable of "carrying 5.8 million pounds (2.6 million kg) of net explosive weight", which specialist brokers said was a very large quantity.
The ship was requested early last month to load on December 15.
In September, the U.S. Congress aproved the sale of 1,000 bunker-buster missiles to Israel. The GPS-guided GBU-39 is said to be one of the most accurate bombs in the world.