Irish refused bombs sent to Prestwick airport
BOMBS destined to be used by Israel are being flown via Scotland only because the Irish government refused to allow them to land on its soil.
Scotland on Sunday can reveal that after the conflict in Lebanon began three weeks ago, Ireland turned down a United States request for planes carrying 600lb so-called bunker busters to refuel at Shannon airport in Co Clare.
As a result, cargo planes carrying the bombs, which the Israeli army is using in its offensive against the Hezbollah, are being flown via Prestwick airport in Ayrshire.
The use of Prestwick triggered a furious diplomatic row last week after it emerged that the US had broken aviation rules by failing to notify Britain about the flights.
That row is intensifying this weekend as two further American planes carrying 'hazardous' material to Tel Aviv land at the airport.
In another controversial development, Scotland on Sunday has learned that Prestwick is negotiating to allow planeloads of US military personnel on their way to Iraq to stop there.
A well-placed source close to the negotiations said it was bidding to take flights away from Shannon, which is currently used as a stopover for the bulk of the 900 American soldiers who travel from the US to the Middle East every day.
The American airlines which transport the troops through Shannon are understood to be reviewing their use of the airport, following protests in Ireland which have resulted in some of the planes being vandalised. The source said: "It could soon be the case that the Irish will say that they don't want these flights and, as a consequence, then we will look to get them."
The latest revelations are set to crush hopes among British diplomats that the row over Prestwick would die down following President George Bush's apology to Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday.
One Irish official said that the bombs would never have been allowed on Irish soil.
The source said: "There is absolutely no way that we would allow munitions or weapons to be shipped through Shannon to a location where there is an actual war going on. We would not allow it. It is correct that we allow the US to transport troops to Shannon, but sending bombs to Israel is another matter and completely out of the question for us."
Opposition critics last night seized on the situation. Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said: "It is highly significant that Shannon put its foot down and drew back from allowing the transport of bunker busters, which could become the tinder to escalate dramatically the Middle East conflict."
He added: "It is absolutely appalling that we should allow Prestwick to become a stopover to death and destruction."
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said the fact that more flights were now landing in Scotland was "adding insult to injury".
He said: "What price the president's apology now?
The British government should be pursuing an active policy of denying weapons of any kind to anyone in the Middle East who may be assisting the conflict in any way."
However, speaking from America, Blair defended the use of Prestwick: "We should just apply the rules in the appropriate way, which is what we are doing. What happens at Prestwick airport is not going to determine whether we get a ceasefire in the Lebanon.
"If what people are saying is that we should impose an arms embargo on Israel, or indeed on the US, I think that would be very curious indeed."
A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority confirmed the authorities had approved an 'exemption' allowing the two new flights to land at Prestwick. The first, a Boeing 747 from Texas, landed at about 1pm yesterday for refuelling. A second flight is due to arrive today.
Residents and politicians in Ayrshire have voiced anger at the flights. The airport has been used by the US as a refuelling point for flights involved in the controversial 'extraordinary rendition' of terror suspects to countries where they are alleged to have been tortured.
A demonstration has been planned for today at Prestwick by anti-war campaigners.
Sources at Prestwick say that if the airport took on even more US military flights, it could employ a further 80 people in the area.
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