(CAIRO, Egypt) — Egyptian authorities say that the six anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles they seized from alleged smugglers headed for Gaza were of U.S. origin – but weapons proliferation experts cast doubt on the claim.
The weapons, which were intercepted in the Sinai desert, were believed to have come from Libya and to have been manufactured by U.S. firms, Egyptian security sources told reporters.
But Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, who tracked weapons in Libya after the fall of Gadhafi, said he “was not aware of any American weapons in Libya neither from the days of Gadhafi nor under the rebels.”
“This is probably a misidentification of weapons systems, confusing weapons made by NATO allies such as France and Italy with U.S.-made weapons,” said Bouckaert.
The U.S. State Department bans the sale and transfer of lethal defense materials to Libya.
Since the fall of Libya’s longtime dictator Gadhafi at the hands of the rebels in 2011, weapons have been transferred from Libya to Gaza through the Sinai desert, though none have been documented as U.S.-made, according to Human Rights Watch. The weapons smuggled have mainly been Soviet and Warsaw Pact shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, known as Manpads, as well as Belgian FM 2000 rifles and Russian AK-1032 rifles.
The missiles seized in the Sinai Friday reportedly have a range of up to one mile and were buried in a hole outside the city of el-Arish in the Sinai desert early Friday morning according to Ma’an.
The Sinai desert has been a main passageway for weapons smuggling into Gaza. It is dominated by Bedouin tribes and has seen a security vacuum since the Egyptian uprising in February 2011. Through a complex system of underground tunnels, Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that rules the Gaza strip, as well as other armed groups have been able to smuggle Iranian-made long and medium-range rockets as well as raw materials to make explosives.
Last month Egyptian security forces seized 17 French-made missiles en route to Gaza, according to news reports.
There has been mounting pressure on Egypt to stymie weapons smuggling to Gaza since the ceasefire that ended the last round of hostilities between Israel and Gaza in November 2012.
Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza strip since 2007 which includes weapons as well as many basic goods such as food stuffs, medical supplies and stationery.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN