Iran to send
aid ships to Gaza
Two Iranian vessels carrying aid supplies are due to set sail
for Gaza in the coming week, in a move likely to further heighten tensions in
Iranian news media reported on Tuesday that four tonnes of humanitarian aid, including food, medicine and clothing would be sent to Gaza within coming days.
"This ship will pass through territorial waters of Oman, Yemen and Egypt before it reaches Gaza. It is said that the ship contains only humanitarian aid and there are no peace activists on board," Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
Meanwhile, the official Irna news agency cited Mohammad Ali Nouraee, an Iranian aid official, as saying one cargo will be sent to Turkey, and then shipped to Gaza from Istanbul while the other will leave from the port of Khorramshahr.
Nouraee said that the ships would sail without protective security because the Iranians "do not want to fight".
His comments came after General Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard denied a report on Monday that its naval forces would escort the Iranian ships, Iran's Fars news agency reported.
Abdul Rauf Adibzadeh, the Red Crescent director for international affairs, told Irna that the vessels will carry "food, medication and medical equipments".
He said the Red Crescent has called for Iranian volunteers to act as relief workers and accompany the vessels.
"Volunteers who want to go to Gaza and help the people of the occupied Palestine can register through the Red Crescent website," he said.
However, Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister's office, told Al Jazeera that Iran has ulterior motives.
"[Iran] has an interest in bolstering the Hamas government ... obviously we are trying to prevent them from sending weapons to Hamas"
Israeli government spokesman
"The regime in Iran is the prime ally of Hamas in Gaza and they have consistently tried to send to Gaza more deadly weapons, rockets and missiles that are used against the people of Israel and Israeli civilians," he said.
"And of course they have an interest in bolstering the Hamas government and in trying to undermine Israel's naval blockade. Obviously we are trying to prevent them from sending weapons to Hamas."
Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from occupied Jerusalem, said the Israeli government position had been consistent throughout regarding any ship that tried to break the blockade on Gaza.
"The Israeli government is reiterating that no ship would be allowed into Gaza's territorial waters to offload any kind of cargo," he said.
The news of the Iranian aid ships comes just two weeks after the Israeli navy attacked a Turkish flotilla of ships trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.
Nine activists on the Mavi Marmara - the flotilla's largest boat - were killed in the attack on May 31.
Our correspondent said the Iranian vessels, unlike the Turkish flotilla, would not be sailing into Gaza through international waters.
"The Iranian ships will not be in international waters but instead in Egyptian waters and then technically in Gaza's territorial waters - which are under the control of the Israeli navy," he said.
"[This is] unlike the Turkish flotilla, which entered international waters when the raid happened. Therefore these Iranian ships will be subject to Egyptian naval control and ultimately when they get into Gaza will have to face the Israeli navy."
In January 2009, an Israeli warship approached an Iranian aid boat heading for the Mediterranean territory and told it to leave the area, 70kms from Gaza.
The ship went on to Egypt, which borders Gaza, but was refused permission to unload.
However this time, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Biqash, an Iranian member of parliament, said on Sunday that the Egyptian government had agreed to issue visas to 70 Iranian parliamentarians who had registered to travel to the Gaza Strip.