Iranian foreign minister says Islamic Republic will do what it can to get the ship to the Strip.
By YAAKOV KATZ, AP
The Navy is closely tracking an Iranian ship that has attempted several times to breach the naval blockade imposed on Gaza and transport humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.
On Tuesday, the boat docked in Port Said, Egypt, but the Egyptians refused to allow it to unload its cargo and at midnight Wednesday the boat tried sailing into Gaza.
A Navy Sa'ar 4.5-class missile ship intercepted the Iranian boat and transmitted a clear message on Channel 16 - the international communication line for ships - that it would not allow the boat to dock in Gaza.
On Wednesday morning, when it was 30 miles off the Gaza coast, the Iranian boat again tried to move toward the Strip, and the Navy again intercepted it. It then returned to el-Arish, Egypt, and two Egyptian boats prevented it from docking there.
Since that time, the boat has been sitting 30 miles off the coast of Gaza and is being closely tracked by the Israeli navy. Israel and the Egyptians have been coordinating all activity regarding the Iranian boat.
The head of the humanitarian aid group sponsoring the ship, Ahmad Navabi, said in comments aired on Iranian television Wednesday that the Israeli navy approached the cargo ship, Shahed, about 20 miles off the coast of Gaza at dawn Wednesday, and ordered it to turn back.
"An Israeli warship approached our cargo ship and warned us not to approach Gaza. We could see the lights at Gaza coast. We were forced to change route toward an Egyptian port," Navabi said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that Iran had stepped up diplomatic efforts to push for an end to the Israeli assault on Gaza, state television reported.
"In the short term, the most important measures are to end (the Israeli) assault on Gaza, end the Gaza blockade and recognize the rights of the Gaza people," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.
This is the first Iranian boat to try to reach Gaza during the blockade. On December 30, a boat carrying activists and medical supplies to Gaza was turned back after an altercation with the Israeli navy. Israeli officials said the boat tried to outmaneuver an Israeli navy ship and crashed into it, lightly damaging both vessels.
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