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French consulate worker is accused of smuggling guns from Gaza

French national Romain Franck appears in a Haifa court Monday to face charges of smuggling guns from Gaza.
French national Romain Franck appears in a Haifa court Monday to face charges of smuggling guns from Gaza.(JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — A Frenchman working at his country’s consulate in Jerusalem was charged Monday with smuggling guns into the West Bank from Gaza, as Israelis braced for more violence in the Palestinian territories after two deadly attacks and the destruction of two border tunnels over the weekend.

Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, said that Romain Franck, a French citizen, had “cynically exploited” lenient scrutiny of diplomatic vehicles to smuggle 70 pistols and two assault rifles on five trips from Gaza through the Erez crossing.

Franck, 24, obtained the weapons from a Gaza man employed at the French cultural center there, drove them into Israel — the Shin Bet released a photo of an SUV it said Franck had used — and then delivered them to the West Bank, where they were sold to illegal arms dealers, the security service said.

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Eight others were also arrested in connection with the smuggling operation, including a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who works as a security guard at the French Consulate.

Franck took part in the smuggling for financial gain and without the knowledge of his superiors, the security service said.

A spokesman for the French Embassy in Tel Aviv said that French authorities had met with Franck and had extended consular protection to him, but that officials had taken the case very seriously and had closely cooperated with Israeli investigators. He declined to describe Franck’s duties at the consulate.

The arrests came amid a flurry of speculation in the Israeli news media about a possible escalation in Israeli-Palestinian violence after two lethal attacks over the weekend left three Israelis dead — two soldiers and a civilian.

On Friday in Mevo Dotan, a Jewish settlement near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, a 26-year-old Palestinian man ran down four Israeli soldiers, killing two and seriously wounding the others, in what the Shin Bet said was a deliberate attack. The suspect in the attack, Ala Qabha, who was hospitalized for his injuries, confessed under interrogation, the Shin Bet said.

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Qabha lived in nearby Bartaa, of which part is in Israel and the rest in the West Bank, and had spent two years in Israeli prisons, local reports said.

As is common practice, the military raided Qabha’s home, marked it for demolition and suspended the Israeli work permits of members of Qabha’s extended family, who number in the dozens, officials said.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also renewed his call for legislation making it easier for military courts to impose the death sentence on Palestinians convicted of terror attacks.

In the second episode, Adiel Kolman, a 32-year-old father of four from Kochav Hashahar, a West Bank settlement east of Ramallah, was fatally stabbed at the Lions’ Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday.

His assailant, identified as Abd el-Rahman Bani Fadel, 28, a father of two from Aqraba, outside Nablus in the West Bank, was shot and killed by a police officer. He had just entered Israel on a five-day permit and was looking for work, officials said.

Nor was it quiet on the Gaza front over the weekend: After bombs were detonated near the border fence Thursday and again Saturday, causing no injuries, Israel hit targets in Gaza from the air and ground. Israel announced a day later that it had destroyed two tunnels from Gaza into Israel.

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