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 the militant group 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, 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 December 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.