Confusion over Suez ship crossing

Iran media says two warships used the waterway to reach Mediterranean, a claim dismissed by an Egyptian official.

    Israeli PM Netanyahu says the incident is an attempt by Iran to broaden its regional influence [GALLO/GETTY]

    Iranian media has reported that two Iranian warships were in the Mediterranean, in the first such passage since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and on their way to a Syrian port.

    However, a senior Suez Canal official denied the report on Sunday, saying that the warships had yet to reach Egypt's waterway to cross into the Mediterranean.

    "No Iranian ships have passed. Not today, not yesterday, not the day before," Ahmed al-Manakhly, the head of the canal's operations room, told AFP news agency.

    Manakhly did not say when the Iranian ships were scheduled to arrive but canal officials have privately said they were expected early on Monday.

    In the wake of president Hosni Mubarak's overthrow on February 11, Egypt gave permission on Friday for the warships to transit the canal into the Mediterranean, in what Israel has described as a "provocation".

    Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, says the move was an attempt by Iran to broaden its regional influence.

    "We can see what an unstable region we live in, an area in which Iran is trying to take advantage of the situation that has arisen and broaden its influence by transferring two warships via the Suez Canal," he said in public remarks to his cabinet.

    Netanyahu said Israel would need to boost defence spending as a result of Tehran's move and recent regional upheaval.

    Iran's official Fars new agency, quoting senior naval commanders, has identified the ships as Kharg, a 33,000-tonne refuelling and support vessel  and Alvand, a 1,500-tonne light patrol frigate.

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

    However, Egypt's MENA news agency reported that the request for the ships to pass through the Suez Canal said they were not carrying weapons or nuclear and chemical materials.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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