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Friday, August 19, 2005

Rocket Fired at 2 U.S. Navy Ships at Port in Jordan - New York Times

Rocket Fired at 2 U.S. Navy Ships at Port in Jordan - New York TimesAugust 19, 2005
Rocket Fired at 2 U.S. Navy Ships at Port in Jordan

AMMAN, Jordan, Aug. 19 - A rocket was fired early today at two American naval ships docked in southern Jordan, killing a Jordanian soldier and marking the first attack on American military ships in the region in five years, American and Jordanian officials said.

A rocket was fired at the same time from apparently the same area at an airport in a neighboring Israeli port, hitting a stretch of road and wounding a taxi driver, news agencies reported, citing Israeli officials and witnesses. A third projectile was fired at a Jordanian hospital around the southern port of Aqaba but did no damage.

No one claimed immediate responsibility for the simultaneous attacks, which displayed audacity in their use of military-style weapons and techniques. In October 2000, two suicide bombers detonated a launch loaded with explosives next to the American destroyer Cole as it was refueling in a port in Yemen. That attack, which killed 17 people and wounded 39 others, was attributed to Al Qaeda.

The attack today on the American vessels, the Ashland and the Kearsarge, took place around 8:44 a.m. and missed two naval ships at dock in Aqaba, said Capt. Ryan Fitzgerald of the United States Air Force, a spokesman for the American military command in the Middle East. The tocket flew over the ships and landed on a warehouse at the pier, he said.

A Jordanian military officer in the area said a Jordanian soldier in or around the warehouse was struck in the attack, The Associated Press reported. The soldier, Ahmed Jamal Saleh, died on the way to the hospital. Another projectile was fired at a Jordanian hospital, but missed and did no damage, another Jordanian official said.

The American ships are part of the Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, and were in Aqaba as part of routine military exercises with Jordanian forces.

The rocket that killed the Jordanian soldier was fired from land, as was the Katyusha rocket that hit Eilat, just across the Israel-Jordan border from Aqaba. The rocket landed 15 yards from the Eilat airport fence and created a small crater in the road, said a local police commander, Avi Azulin, according to The A.P.

A taxi driver passing on the road just as the rocket fell was lightly wounded. However, the rocket did not hit his car, witnesses said.

The Israeli defense minister,Shaul Mofaz, speaking in southern Israel, said the attacks were "intended to hit the Israeli side and the Jordanian side as well."

"We still don't know who is behind this act, but I'm sure the Jordanians will do all they can to prevent such attacks in the future as in the past," he said, adding that Israeli authorities are in contact with Jordanians over the incidents.

The Israeli government is in the middle of removing settlers from the Gaza Strip, in order to turn over authority of that land to Palestinians. Though Israeli troops have had to herd hard-line settlers onto buses and out of the territory, the removal has been relatively quick and peaceful so far. About half the population of Jordan is Palestinian, and most people in this country strongly favor the unilateral move by Israel.

American ships docking in Middle Eastern ports have increased their security procedures in the years since the attack on the Cole, which is based in Norfolk, Va.. The terrorists who struck at that ship used 500 pounds of explosives that blew a 40-foot hole in the side of the ship.

Last September, a court in Yemen sentenced two men to death and four others to prison terms for their roles in the suicide bombing. The six were comprised of five Yemenis and Abd Rahim Nashiri, a Saudi who American officials said headed Al Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf. Mr. Nashiri was held in American custody in an unknown location.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the American and British military used Jordan as a staging post for Special Forces operations. The soldiers made overland incursions into the deserts of Anbar Province, in western Iraq, seeking to destroy bases of support for Saddam Hussein. The American military is still dependent on Jordan for cooperation in the ongoing war in Iraq, which shows no signs of abating.

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has been sharply criticized by conservative Islamic groups for its ties to both Israel and the United States.

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