Czech police arms report defuses tension with Palestinians

PRAGUE Fri Feb 7, 2014 12:48pm EST

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PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech police said on Friday that unregistered weapons found at the Palestinian mission in Prague last month were decades old and had not been smuggled into the country, defusing diplomatic tensions over their origin.

Police said 12 handguns and assault rifles and small amounts of explosives discovered after the Palestinian ambassador was killed by a blast after opening an old safe on January 1 were made in former communist Czechoslovakia.

News of the arms cache prompted speculation the mission might be involved in illegal arms shipments and the foreign ministry demanded an explanation. A ministry spokeswoman said her department was now satisfied no smuggling took place.

"Given the results so far, there is no need to return to the issue," spokeswoman Johana Grohova said, adding the ministry accepted an apology offered by Palestinian officials.

The police report backed up the initial Palestinian explanation that the weapons were old gifts from the country's former communist leaders, who had close ties to the Palestine Liberation Organisation of the late Yasser Arafat.

"The weapons come from former Czechoslovakia," said police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova. "The conclusions of the examinations of weapons and fragments of explosives... prove that these date back to the 1970 and 1980s."

She said none of the arms could be traced to any crime committed in the Czech Republic.

Police found the weapons after ambassador Jamal al-Jamal was killed in an explosion in his residence after he opened a safe, possibly by an explosive device meant to secure it.

Before the end of communist rule in 1989, Palestinian representatives often visited Czechoslovakia. Relations cooled after the country's "Velvet Revolution" but Prague let the Palestinians keep their mission here at the level of an embassy.

The foreign ministry said last month the Palestinians had violated rules governing diplomatic relations by holding unregistered weapons at the mission. But it said it would await the police report before making any final judgment.

Embassies and diplomatic residences are normally protected from searches by host countries. But Czech police were able to search the Palestinian mission and residence because it was a newly built compound still without official status.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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