JERUSALEM — A French national working for his country’s consulate in Jerusalem appeared in an Israeli court on Monday on charges that he smuggled weapons from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in a diplomatic vehicle.
The consulate employee, identified by Israeli authorities as Romain Franck, is accused of smuggling the weapons out of Gaza on at least five occasions and transferring them to a criminal Palestinian ring. The gang is alleged to have sold the weapons for thousands of dollars to arms dealers in the occupied West Bank.
Franck, who French media said is 23 or 24 years old, is suspected of having transferred about 70 pistols and two assault rifles in return for roughly $7,500.
The indictment describes in detail the five times that he was allegedly involved in transferring “nylon-wrapped” packages of guns from Gaza to the West Bank cell. It said he was a driver with the French Consulate and took advantage of his access to consular vehicles — which are subject to less stringent security checks — to carry as many as 20 guns at a time through the Erez crossing into Israel and on to Jerusalem.
The indictment says he would then head to the West Bank city of Ramallah, passing through an Israeli checkpoint along the way, to meet members of the Palestinian cell and hand over the weapons.
Franck also allegedly involved another French Consulate employee, who worked as a security guard, in the criminal enterprise. That individual, an Israeli Arab resident of East Jerusalem, was indicted Monday on similar charges.
“The investigation clearly shows that the employee of the French Consulate acted for financial gain, on his own initiative and without the knowledge of his superiors,” Israel’s internal security agency said in a statement, referring to Franck.
“This is a very grave incident in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign missions in Israel were cynically exploited to smuggle dozens of weapons that may be used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces,” said the agency, known as Shin Bet.
A spokesman for the French Embassy in Tel Aviv said, “We take this case very seriously and are in very close contact with the Israeli authorities on this case.” The spokesman’s name could not be published under ground rules for briefing news media.
Franck has been held by Israeli authorities since Feb. 15, the indictment says. Seven other people, including his colleague from the consulate, also were arrested in relation to the smuggling ring.
The crossing between Israel and Gaza is permanently on high alert, and Gaza has been subject to tight restrictions on movement and trade since the militant Islamist group Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007. Since then, Israel and Hamas — which has been designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union — have fought three wars.
Tensions have increased along the border in recent weeks, with Israel accusing Hamas of sending civilians to protest along its border fence. Gaza residents have held regular protests near the barrier since President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. Several protesters have been fatally shot by Israeli security forces.
Rocket fire from Gaza also increased in the wake of Trump’s announcement, although it has since died down.
On Sunday, the Israeli military said it destroyed a Hamas tunnel built to enable the group’s fighters to infiltrate Israeli territory. On Thursday, the military said two explosive devices were detonated near troops on a routine patrol. Last month, four Israeli soldiers were injured when a bomb went off next to the border fence.
“We are seeing Hamas instigate riots, calling on its civilians to march toward the fence and engage with our troops,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an army spokesman, said Thursday in a news briefing. “We are seeing a pattern here, and we will not allow it to become standard operating procedure.”
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly characterized Israel’s Shin Bet security service as alleging that Romain Franck was acting on behalf of Hamas.