Iranian officials on Saturday strongly disputed media reports that Iran's top leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini has banned volunteers from leaving the country to carry out suicide bombings against Israel and stressed that the supreme leader meant only that practical obstacles remained for such attackers to get to Gaza. The officials said The Associated Press misinterpreted Khamenei's comments when he said Thursday that "our hands are tied in this arena." The AP also quoted Khamenei as saying that Iran would assist Hamas, which is fighting Israel, in other ways. The Iranian officials said Khamenei's words should not have been interpreted as a ban on such volunteers, but meant that any Iranians would have great practical difficulty in reaching Gaza because of Israel's offensive. The report was used by some Arab television stations. Last week, hardline Iranian student groups had asked the government to authorize volunteers to carry out suicide bombings in Israel in support of Hamas. The students began signing up after Khamenei issued a religious decree on Dec. 28 saying anyone killed while defending Palestinians in Gaza against Israeli attacks would be considered a martyr. Volunteer suicide groups have made similar requests in the past and the government never responded to their calls. The student groups claim that more than 70,000 people throughout Iran have registered as volunteer suicide bombers since Israel launched its assault against Hamas-ruled Gaza on Dec. 27. Israel's bombardment of Gaza, which has killed more than 800 Palestinians, has outraged many in Iran and the Arab world. Israel says it launched the offensive to stop Hamas from shooting rockets into southern Israel. Thirteen Israelis have died since the offensive began.