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Khartoum Fire Blamed on Israeli Bombing

DOHA, Qatar, Oct 24 2012 - Sudan has accused Israel of bombing a military arms factory, threatening retaliation after a resulting fire killed two people and injured a third.

“We think Israel did the bombing,” Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman told a news conference. “We reserve the right to react at a place and time we choose.”

The minister said four “radar-evading” aircraft were involved in the attack, which occurred at about midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday at the Yarmouk military manufacturing facility in south Khartoum.

It took troops several hours to contain the blaze.

Evidence pointing to Israel was found among remnants of the explosives, Osman said, adding that the cabinet would hold an urgent meeting at 8:00pm.

Witness reports

Al Jazeera’s Harriet Martin, reporting from Khartoum, said that although no evidence linking Israel to the fire had been made public, concurrent reports suggest there may be some truth in the accusations.

“There have been numerous reports from eyewitnesses, saying what initially many people thought was a plane passed over, and then there was a big, white explosion,” she said. “These reports have come from many different sources, and people I know as well.

“And so it does seem something happened before this munitions factory caught on fire.”

Fires flaring across a wide area, with heavy smoke and intermittent flashes of white light bursting above the state-owned factory, were seen from several kilometres away.

“I heard a sound like a plane in the sky, but I didn’t see any light from a plane. Then I heard two explosions, and fire erupted in the compound,” a resident who asked to be identified only as Faize told the AFP news agency.

A woman living south of the compound also reported two initial blasts.

“I saw a plane coming from east to west and I heard explosions and there was a short length of time between the first one and the second one,” she said, asking not to be named.

“Then I saw fire and our neighbour’s house was hit by shrapnel, causing minor damage. The windows of my own house rattled after the second explosion.”

Widespread damage

The sprawling Yarmouk facility is surrounded by barbed wire and set back about two kilometres from the district’s main road, but at least three houses in the neighbourhood had been punctured by shrapnel which left walls and a fence with holes about 20cm in diameter, AFP said.

There was also slight damage to a Coca-Cola warehouse.

Osman said Yarmouk makes “traditional weapons”.

“The attack destroyed part of the compound infrastructure, killed two people inside and injured another who is in serious condition,” he said.

The military and foreign ministry in Israel, which has long accused Khartoum of serving as a base for armed members of the Palestinian group Hamas, told Al Jazeera they had “no comment” regarding the accusation.

U.S. sanctions

In 2009, a convoy carrying weapons in northeastern Sudan was targeted from the air, killing dozens of people.

It was widely believed that Israel carried out the attack on what was supected to be a weapons shipment heading for Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip.

Israel never confirmed or denied that attack. Sudanese parliamentarians denied at the time that weapons were transported in the area.

In 1998, Human Rights Watch said a coalition of opposition groups alleged that Sudan stored chemical weapons for Iraq at the Yarmouk facility but government officials denied the charges.

In August of that year, U.S. cruise missiles struck the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in north Khartoum, which Washington alleged was linked to chemical weapons production.

Evidence for that claim later proved questionable.

Khartoum is seeking the removal of U.S. sanctions imposed in 1997 over alleged support for international terrorism, its human rights record and other concerns.

*Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.

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