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JERUSALEM — Israel said Tuesday it seized a cargo ship loaded with weapons sent by Iran to Palestinian militants in Gaza, including sophisticated land-to-sea missiles that officials said could change the balance of power in the area.
The takeover in the Mediterranean Sea was the latest in a series of Israeli naval raids meant to counter the growing influence of Iran, which Israel accuses of supplying rockets and other arms to Israel's bitterest enemies.
The navy's deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Rani Ben-Yehudah, said investigators had found between two and four Chinese-made C-704 missiles, which land-based forces can use to attack ships.
Ben-Yehudah said Iran is known to possess these weapons, the shipment included instruction manuals in Farsi and there were other clues that "explicitly" showed Iranian involvement.
The military released a photo of a booklet with the words "technical missile identification document" written in Farsi on the cover. It identified the system as a C-704 "Nasr" missile, provided a serial number and date of issue in the Persian calendar.
Images the military released showed mortars and other arms among stacks of munition boxes.
The Victoria is German-owned, operated by a French shipping company and was sailing under a Liberian flag, the Israeli military said. German, French and Liberian authorities were notified of the seizure.
Although the ship was intercepted outside of Israel's territorial waters, maritime law entitles Israel to search any merchant vessel it has reason to believe is carrying contraband to support Hamas, said Benjamin David, a former high-ranking officer in the military's legal department.