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Iranian aid ships head for Gaza

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 08:03:54 AM, Agencies

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Tehran: Iran is sending aid ships to blockaded Gaza, state radio said Monday a move likely to be considered provocative by Israel which accuses Tehran of arming the Palestinian enclave's Hamas rulers.

One ship left port Sunday and another will depart by Friday, loaded with food, construction material and toys, the report said. "Until the end of (Israel's) Gaza blockade, Iran will continue to ship aid," said an official at Iran's Society for the Defense of the Palestinian Nation.

Iran has sent aid to the coastal territory in the past via Egypt. It was not immediately clear if the latest shipments would do the same, or try to dock in Gaza itself.

In January 2009, an Israeli warship approached an Iranian aid boat heading for the Mediterranean territory and told it to leave the area, 70 km from Gaza. The ship went on to Egypt, which borders Gaza, but was refused permission to unload.

Iran lodged a protest over the issue with Egypt, which has a peace agreement with the Jewish state.

Israel has long suspected Iran of supplying weapons to Hamas. Tehran says it only provides moral support to the group.

The deputy head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards played down reports that the Guards would provide a military escort to aid ships heading to Gaza something that would definitely escalate tensions in the region. "Such a thing is not on our agenda," Hossein Salami was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

The Iranian action is in response to Israel's boarding of a flotilla of Turkish aid ships heading to Gaza on May 31 in which troops killed nine activists. An official of the Iranian Red Crescent Society's youth organization said some 100,000 Iranians had volunteered as potential crew for aid ships, daily newspaper Iran reported.

Israel's Cabinet on Monday backed the creation of an internal committee to probe its deadly raid on the aid flotilla, in a move swiftly dismissed by both Turkey and the Palestinians. The committee, which will include two foreign observers, will look into the legal aspects of the operation.

Ankara swiftly dismissed the move, saying that Israel was incapable of being "impartial," and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said setting up an internal committee did not not comply with UN demands.

"We have no trust at all that Israel ... will conduct an impartial investigation," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in Ankara.

UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon believes his proposal for a credible international inquiry into the raid is still on the table, his press office said. Ban considers his proposal does not contradict Israel's decision to set up its own panel, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Washington called the move an "important step forward," but stressed the inquiry should be carried out promptly and its findings "presented publicly" to the international community.




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