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Israel Tells Iran Aid Ship For Gaza To Leave

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Israeli warships have ordered an Iranian vessel carrying humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza to leave the area, an Iranian aid official was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Iran, which has condemned the Jewish state for attacking the coastal territory, earlier this week said the aid ship was nearing Gaza but state radio reported on January 13 it had been stopped by Israel's navy.

Israel has in the past accused Iran of supplying arms to Hamas, the Islamist group which controls Gaza. Tehran says it gives moral, financial, and humanitarian support.

"[The Iranian ship] is now 45 miles away from Gaza and an hour ago, again, we received a warning from Israeli warships to leave the region," the head of Iran's Red Crescent, Massoud Khatami, was quoted as saying by Fars.

"If these warnings continue we will change our route from Gaza to the [Egyptian] port of el-Arish," he said without giving any detail on the Israeli warning.

The ship was carrying 200 tons of foodstuff and medicine "for distribution among the blockaded people of Gaza," state radio has said.

Ahmad Navvab, described by Iranian media as the ship's director on board, on January 13 said the aid may be delivered via Egypt and the Rafah border crossing if the ship could not reach Gaza. Egypt is the only Arab state bordering Gaza.

Iran said last week it had told Egypt it was ready to treat those wounded in Israel's assault and wanted to set up a field hospital nearby on Egyptian territory. Iran has also said it had landed a plane in Egypt with aid and wanted to send more.

Iran does not recognize Israel's right to exist and does not have full relations with Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Iranian hard-liners have accused Egypt of not doing enough to help Gaza's Palestinians.

Egypt sometimes allows wounded people and medical supplies through its border with Gaza but the Rafah crossing has been closed to ordinary traffic since Hamas seized control there in 2007.