JERUSALEM, Nov. 25 (Xinhua) -- Israeli spy satellites have spotted an Iranian ship being loaded with rockets and other munitions that may be headed for the Gaza Strip, The Sunday Times reported, citing Israeli sources.
The cargo, loaded in recent days on a ship in the southern Iranian port of Bandar-Abbas, may include Fajr-5s, long-range rockets fired by Hamas toward Israel last week, as well as components of Shahab-3 ballistic missiles, which could be deployed in Sudan to directly threaten Israel, according to the report.
Intelligence experts assessed the cargo would travel via the Red Sea, Sudan and Egypt.
"We believe that Iranian warships anchored in Eritrea will accompany the weapons ship once it enters the Red Sea," an Israeli source told the Times.
Preparations to load the cargo were launched last week, around the same time as Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire that ended eight days of intense cross-border fighting that saw hundreds of Israeli airstrikes on militant sites in Gaza and more than a thousand rockets lobbed at southern Israel.
Israeli strikes had reportedly depleted a significant portion of Hamas' stockpiles of Fajr-5s, a number of which were fired toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and either exploded in open terrain or were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system. One of those rockets, however, hit an apartment building in Rishon Letzion, a city south of Tel Aviv, injuring a few people.
Analysts said Iran is now racing to replenish Gaza militants' rocket stocks ahead of a possible Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities, which may come in the spring. In such an event, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as Lebanese militia Hezbollah, would likely fire massive salvos of rockets into Israel as part of an Iranian reprisal.
"With a lot of effort and skill, Iran has built a strategic arm threatening Israel from the South," an Israeli source told the Times.
"Regardless of the cease-fire agreement, we will attack and destroy any shipment of arms to Gaza," he said.
In late October, aircraft bombed the Yarmouk munitions plant in Khartoum, Sudan, where Iran had presumably planned to set up a workshop for manufacturing long-range missiles.
Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman accused Israel, and said his country maintains the right to retaliate "at a time and place of its choosing."
Israel kept mum on the affair, but a Sunday Times report published a week later quoted anonymous sources who disclosed that eight Israeli F-15i fighter jets carried out the attack, flying 3, 800 kilometers in total, with four of the aircraft each dropping two one-ton bombs on the target.
Israel Air Force electronic warfare aircraft were used to jam ground radars, while special forces teams were deployed in Sudan to rescue air crews in the event that an aircraft would be shot down, the Times report said.
While talks aimed at achieving a long-term truce between Israel and Gaza militants are expected to commence in Egypt this week, a senior Hamas official clarified that the Islamic group which rules the coastal territory would continue to arm itself.
"The ceasefire agreement won't prevent us from producing or smuggling weapons into Gaza," Moussa Abu Marzouk, Deputy Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau, said over the weekend.
"We have no choice but to continue to bring in weapons by all possible means," Mahmoud al-Zahar, co-founder of Hamas and member of the group's Gaza leadership, told reporters on Saturday, noting that he expected Iran to increase its military and financial support.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a phone call to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, commended what he termed "the victory of the resistance" against Israel, saying his government was committed to stand by the Palestinian people."