Unexploded bombs go missing in Gaza Strip

17/02/2009 - 20:45

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Unexploded bombs dropped on the Gaza Strip during the Israeli offensive have disappeared from a storage site in the Palestinian territory, a U.N. spokesman said Tuesday.

Israel said it suspected Hamas, the Islamist group which controls Gaza, took them.

Three 2,000 pound bombs (about 1 tonne) and eight 500 pound bombs (about 250 kg) that had been collected by international bomb disposal experts were taken from a Hamas police post in Gaza City.

It was not known where they were and the United Nations was trying to find them, U.N. spokesman Richard Miron said.

"It's clearly extremely dangerous and needs to be disposed of in a safe manner," he said.

A Hamas police official declined to comment.

The Islamist Hamas faction took control of the Gaza Strip from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction in a takover in 2007 after winning elections.

During its 22-day offensive against Gaza militants that ended on January 18, Israel launched thousands of rockets, bombs and shells from the ground, air and sea on Gaza. Some 1,300 Palestinians and 14 Israelis died during the fighting.

A U.N. Mines Action Team -- international bomb disposal experts -- arrived in the Gaza Strip shortly after the offensive ended and a cease-fire came into effect and has been working to neutralise unexploded munitions.

The U.N. official said some of the unexploded devices were extremely volatile and could easily be set off by accident.

An Israeli defence ministry official said Israel had been notified that a number of bombs had disappeared.

"We were told of the disappearance of the bombs, our understanding is that Hamas took them," the official, Peter Lerner, said.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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