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Iran Says Israel Stops Its Aid Ship To Gaza

An explosion following an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 13.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- An Iranian ship carrying aid to Gaza was stopped by Israel's navy off the coast of the Palestinian territory, Iran's state radio has reported.

Iran, which does not recognize Israel, has condemned the Jewish state for attacking Gaza and has criticized some Arabs for not doing enough and sent the ship to support Palestinians.

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

"An Iranian ship that was carrying foodstuff and medicine was stopped by the Zionist regime's navy 20 miles off the coast of Gaza," radio reported, adding that the ship had left the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas 13 days earlier.

It said the ship was carrying 200 tons of foodstuff and medicine "for distribution among the blockaded people of Gaza."

Iran's Foreign Ministry said on January 12 the ship had passed Port Said, the Egyptian port on the Mediterranean end of the Suez Canal and about 180 kilometers west of the Gaza coast.

In Contact With Egypt

Ahmad Navvab, described as the ship's director on board, told Iran's state radio: "The consignment of relief aid contributed by the people of Iran is now close to Gaza. But the ship has not received any permit to enter Gaza and the Zionist regime is still obstructing it."

Asked if there was any other way for the aid to reach Gaza, Navvab said: "Our effort is to enter Gaza directly; otherwise we will have to do it through Egypt and the Rafah crossing."

Navvab added that officials in Tehran were in contact with Egypt, the only other state apart from Israel with a border to Gaza, to ask them to accept the aid for delivery.

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.

The United Nations, worried about the deepening humanitarian impact of the war, has said it hopes to resume full aid distribution after receiving Israeli assurances that its staff would not be harmed. A UN driver was killed on January 8.