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Sudan blames Israel for military factory explosion

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MOHAMED OSMAN | October 24, 2012 05:09 PM EST | AP

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KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudan claimed Wednesday that Israeli airstrikes caused an explosion and fire at a military factory south of the capital, Khartoum, killing two people.

Minister of Information Ahmed Belal Osman told reporters that four aircraft hit the Yarmouk Complex, setting off a huge blast that rocked the capital before dawn.

"Four planes coming from the east bombed the Yarmouk industrial complex," Belal said. "They used sophisticated technology." He didn't elaborate further.

Belal referred to a 2009 attack on an arms convoy in the Red Sea province in eastern Sudan. The government then blamed the attack on Israel, which believes Sudan is a conduit for arms shipments through Egypt to Gaza's militant Hamas rulers. Israel does not comment officially on the issue.

"We are now certain that this flagrant attack was authorized by the same state of Israel. The main purpose is to frustrate our military capabilities and stop any development there and ultimately weaken our national sovereignty," Belal said.

Belal said the complex produces conventional weapons. He said his country has the right to respond.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Sudan's representative called the attack a "blatant violation" of the U.N. charter and called for condemnation from the world body.

Belal also said a technical team is inspecting remains of the missiles used in the attack which he said suggest Israel is behind the bombing. He didn't provide any evidence.

Israeli officials did not respond to requests for comment on the latest allegation.

At the same news conference, military spokesman Sawarmy Khaled said two people were killed and another was seriously injured in the blast. Earlier, officials said some people suffered from smoke inhalation.

The powerful blast at the complex sent exploding ammunition flying through the air, causing panic among residents.

Abdelgadir Mohammed, 31, who lives near the factory, said a loud roar of what they believed was a plane got him and his brother out of their house around midnight to check it out.

"At first we thought it was more than one plane. Then we thought it was a plane crashing because of how sharp the sound was," Mohammed said. "Then we saw a flash of light, and after it came a really loud sound. It was an explosion."

He said he heard three distinct explosions.

Mohammed said the explosion caused panic among the residents of this heavily populated low-income neighborhood. Many fled to open spaces, fearing their homes were collapsing. He said ammunition was flying out of the factory into the air and falling inside homes.

"It was a double whammy, the explosion at the factory and then the ammunition flying into the neighborhood. The ground shook. Some homes were badly damaged," he said. "The walls of our home cracked, so we left our house to sleep elsewhere. When we came back this morning, our beds and furniture were covered in ashes."

Mohammed said an artillery shell fell into a neighbor's home, and a security team had to come to remove it.

Thick smoke blackened the sky over the complex, and firefighters fought the blaze for hours.

In New York, Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman called on the U.N. Security Council to condemn the attack, accusing Israel of meddling in its internal affairs and providing support to rebel groups.

"Four Israeli airplanes invaded our air space and perpetrated this heinous attack," Osman told a Council session on Darfur. "We reject such aggression and expect the Security Council to condemn this attack because it is a blatant violation of the concepts of peace and security and of the principles and purposes of the charter and United Nation and it jeopardizes peace and security in the entire region and not just in Sudan."

The Cairo-based Arab League said it is closely following the fallout from the attack. Deputy Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed bin Helli said Sudanese officials are in touch with the League and have provided initial reports about Israel's alleged involvement. "We are working to verify them," he said.

Sudanese activists on social media websites criticized the government for placing a factory with such large quantities of ammunition in a residential area.

Sudan has been engaged in various armed conflicts for many years.

Sudan's government has been at war with rebels in the western region of Darfur and with its neighbors in South Sudan, which broke away to become Africa's newest country in 2011. Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Sudan was a major hub for al-Qaida militants and remains a transit for weapon smugglers and African migrant traffickers.

In 2009, a convoy carrying weapons in northeastern Sudan was targeted from the air, killing dozens. It was widely believed that Israel carried out the attack, hitting a weapons shipment headed for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel never confirmed or denied that. Sudanese parliamentarians denied that weapons were transported in the area.

Israel never confirmed or denied it was responsible for the attack.

The U.S. imposed economic, trade and financial sanctions against Sudan in 1997, citing the Sudanese government's support for terrorism, including its sheltering of al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden in Khartoum the mid-1990s.

In 1998, American cruise missiles bombed a Khartoum pharmaceutical factory suspected of links to al-Qaida. That followed the terror group's bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.

The Yarmouk weapons complex was built in the 1996. Sudan prided itself in having a way to produce its own ammunition and weapons despite international sanctions.

Yarmouk is one of two known state-owned weapons manufacturing facilities in the Sudanese capital.

Jonah Leff of the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey told The Associated Press that the location of the two factories is "certainly a hazard" to Khartoum's population if the weapons inside are not properly maintained or secured.

A September report from the Small Arms Survey said there was evidence from weapons packaging found in Darfur and in South Kordofan that arms and ammunition from China are exported to Yarmouk and then transported to the two embattled regions.

Leff said that although the Small Arms Survey has documented Sudanese military stocks of Iranian weapons and ammunition, there is no evidence that Iranian weapons are being assembled or manufactured in the two Khartoum factories.

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Associated Press writers Maggie Fick and Sarah El Deeb contributed from Cairo and Michael Astor from the United Nations.