Sudan accuses Israel of attack near main port city

KHARTOUM Wed Apr 6, 2011 4:43pm EDT

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan accused Israel of launching a missile strike that killed two people near its main port city, in an attack that raised concerns about Khartoum's ability to stop arms trafficking across its remote east.

Analysts say weapons are smuggled to Hamas-run Gaza through desert routes in Sudan's east, and reports said Israel was behind an air strike on a convoy of suspected arms smugglers in the region in 2009. Israel has never admitted or denied this.

"This is absolutely an Israeli attack," Foreign Minister Ali Karti told reporters on the strike that demolished a car and killed its two passengers near Port Sudan on Tuesday.

"Sudan reserves its right to react."

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declined to comment on the accusation.

The strike comes at an difficult moment for Khartoum, which is hoping to get off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism to attract investment and curb discontent over soaring prices and the secession of its oil-producing south.

Karti accused Israel, which Khartoum considers an enemy state, of undertaking the attack in a bid to scupper Sudan's chances of being removed from the U.S. terror list and portray Sudan negatively.

One of the two people killed in the strike was a Sudanese citizen who had no ties to Islamists or the government and it was not clear why his car was targeted, he said. He did not provide any details about the second person killed.

Osman Merghani, editor-in-chief of the independent al-Tayyar paper in Khartoum, said the strike appeared to be one Israel had the capability to execute and that the target was likely to be a weapons trafficker for Hamas who used Sudan's east.

"It's very serious for the government because now Sudan is getting into the domain of the 'terror' region," he said, referring to neighboring states.

"They have to get some help from within the (Middle East) region to stop this because if they get help from outside the region they could themselves be targeted by the terrorists," Merghani said.

Sudanese police say a missile struck the car near the port city and a state government official said the attack came from a foreign aircraft that flew in from the Red Sea.

This is the second time in two years that blame has been put on Israel as the likely power behind an attack in the area.

Sudanese officials in 2009 said unknown aircraft had killed scores in a strike on a convoy of suspected arms smugglers on a remote road in the east, which some reports said may have been carried out by Israel to stop weapons bound for Gaza.

Hamas obtains its weapons via Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, bringing them in through tunnels. Sudan denies allowing illegal weapon shipments across its territory.

Washington this year initiated the process to remove Sudan from the state sponsors of terror list after a peaceful January referendum for southern secession, but has stressed Khartoum must meet all criteria under U.S. law before it is dropped.

Karti's comments on the strike came minutes after he held a meeting with the new U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, who said Washington was working toward normalization of relations between the two countries.

Sudan is also under U.S. sanctions, which local businesses and residents say has heaped additional burdens on a people already weighed down by decades of conflict.

(Additional reporting by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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