By Daniel Flynn and Andrew Gray
ATHENS/WASHINGTON, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Greece’s opposition accused the ruling conservatives on Tuesday of allowing U.S. arms shipments to Israel via a Greek port for over a year, despite the government’s denials.
The U.S. military said on Monday it cancelled the shipment of 325 containers of ammunition from the western Greek port of Astakos to a U.S. stockpile in Israel, citing safety concerns at the Israeli port of destination due to the conflict in Gaza.
However, a Pentagon spokesman said on Tuesday the transport had been cancelled at the request of the Greek government. Reports of the shipment had provoked a media outcry in Greece, where Israel’s 18-day-old offensive in Gaza is deeply unpopular.
"I think the Greek government has some issue with the offloading of some of that shipment in their country and we are finding alternative means of getting that entire shipment to its proper destination in Israel," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
He said the decision to replenish the stockpile, which can be accessed by Israel with U.S. permission, had been taken long before the outbreak of the Gaza conflict. Morrell said he did not know if Israel currently had access to the weapons cache.
Greece’s opposition PASOK party submitted questions to parliament asking whether U.S. arms shipments to Israel via Astakos, which it said dated back to September 2007, had been approved by the government.
"Did the foreign ministry and other relevant ministries approve these shipments or was Greek and international law replaced by practices that weaken the sovereignty of this country?" read the PASOK statement.
Greece’s Communist party and a left-wing coalition have called demonstrations at Astakos for Wednesday and Thursday.
PASOK said the alleged shipments were organised by a Greek-based detachment of the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command with the permission of Greek authorities. It called for all the related documentation to be made public.
Greece’s ruling New Democracy party has said in recent days it has not allowed supplies to the Israeli army to pass through Greece. It went further on Tuesday by saying it had not given permission for any U.S. arms shipments bound for Israel.
"The Greek side didn’t allow such a transport," said government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros, asked about the latest cargo. A shipping tender issued on Dec. 31 by the U.S. military, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, showed the destination of the cargo was the Israeli port of Ashdod.
Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry say 971 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive which Israel launched on Dec. 27 with the stated aim of ending militant rocket fire from Gaza. On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and three civilians hit by Hamas rockets have died. (Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou in Athens and Stefano Ambrogi in London, editing by Mark Trevelyan)