Two Israeli pilots being held in Eritrea for arms smuggling
Pilots detained on suspicion of smuggling spare weapons' parts return to Israel after one month detention in capital Asmara.
By Barak Ravid
After a month of intensive diplomatic efforts, two Israeli pilots who were detained in Eritrea for a month on suspicion of arms trafficking, returned to Israel on Tuesday.
Yehuda Maoz and Vered Aharonson, both worked for an Israeli company called “Gesher Aviri,” or ‘air-bridge’ in Hebrew. They flew to Eritrea to make a delivery which included an envelope containing spare parts. On arriving in Eritrea, the items declared on their customs documents did not match the contents of the envelope.
Foreign Ministry sources stated that the Eritrean customs authorities suspected the pilots of trying to smuggle in spare parts of weapons.
The two pilots were held in a hotel in the capital Asmara for a month, while Eritrean security forces did not allow the Israeli ambassador to visit them. Israel’s Foreign Ministry suspected that the extended period of detention would lead to an indictment, and that the pilots would be jailed in Eritrea.
In recent weeks, heavy diplomatic pressure has been applied on Ertirea by Israel’s ambassador there and by Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem, until the pilot’s release on Monday. Israel’s message to the Eritrean authorities was that the pilots had been negligent in filling out customs forms, but that they had not intended to smuggle weapons parts into the country.
Eritrea releases 2 Israeli pilots held on arms charges
Eritrean authorities detain two civilian pilots suspected of arms smuggling; hold them under heavy guard in Asmara hotel while diplomatic officials mount frantic efforts for their release. Both return to Israel unharmed.
By Ronen Medzini
Cleared for publication: Two Israeli civilian pilots were recently released from the custody of the Eritrean authorities, who were holding them on suspicion of arms smuggling, Ynet learned on Tuesday.
The two, Captain Yehuda Maoz and First Officer Vered Aharonson, were taken into custody two weeks ago and remanded to their Asmara hotel, were they were held under heavy guard.
Diplomatic sources told Ynet that there were concrete fears for the pilots' lives, prompting Foreign Ministry officials to mount frantic efforts for their release. They arrived back in Israel on Tuesday afternoon, unharmed.
According to the available details, both Maoz and Aharonson are former IDF officers employed as pilots by the Israel-based Aviation Bridge Company.
They arrived in the African country in early August as part of a routine flight, and were set to transport a mechanical part – held in a sealed envelope – to a security company which had hired their company's services.
The part was discovered during a routine security check at the Asmara airport, but while the two declared it to be a mechanical part, local authorities suspected it was actually meant for weapons construction.
It is believed that the fact that the part was meant to be delivered to a private security company, was what triggered the Eritreans' suspicion.
Aharonson was the pilot who rescued Yedioth Ahronoth reporter Zadok Yehezkeli in 2008, after he was severely injured while on a mission in Georgia.
According to its website, Aviation Bridge is a private flight operator "specializing in executive, ambulance, and special-needs air transportation."
(Source: Ynet News)