Saturday, February 19, 2011

Egypt OKs Iranian Ships' Passage Through Suez

Egypt on Feb. 18 gave permission for Iranian Navy ships to transit the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, state media reported, after Israel described the move as a "provocation."

"Egypt agreed to allow two Iranian warships to transit the Suez Canal," the official MENA news agency reported.

Canal officials say it would be the first time Iranian warships have made the passage since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
MENA reported that the request for the ship to pass said they were not carrying weapons or nuclear and chemical materials.

It is not known when the ships are expected to arrive at Port Said, the northern terminus of the canal on the Mediterranean. From there they are expected to sail to Syria.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has labeled the Iranian action as "hostile" and said Israel was closely monitoring the situation.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said an Iranian naval presence in the area was a "provocation that proves the self-confidence and cheek of the Iranians is growing from day to day."

Asked to comment on the latest development, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor recalled Lieberman's comments on Feb. 16.

"We have nothing to add to the minister's statement," Palmor said Feb. 18. "It's still valid."

Earlier, an Egyptian foreign ministry official said the Iranian request was passed on to the defense ministry, which has to approve the passage of any warship through the canal.

His comments came a day after a canal official and a shipping agent said the request had been cancelled, at the prompting of the Egyptian government. An Iranian diplomat said administrative reasons where behind the delay.

Iran's official Fars news agency, quoting senior naval commanders, has said the ships are the 33,000-ton refueling and support vessel Kharg and the 1,500-ton light patrol frigate Alvand, both British-built.

Kharg has a crew of 250 and can carry up to three helicopters. Alvand is armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles.

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