Two Israeli pilots freed after being held in Eritrea for arms smuggling
Pilots detained on suspicion of smuggling spare weapons parts, return to Israel after one month detention in Eritrean capital Asmara.
After a month of intensive diplomatic efforts, two Israeli pilots who were detained in Eritrea for a month on suspicion of arms smuggling, 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.