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IRAN: Controversial attempt to break Israeli blockade of Gaza called off

June 25, 2010 |  6:26 am

OK, people, relax. World War III is not going to break out this weekend over a high-seas confrontation between Iranian aid ships headed to the Gaza Strip and Israeli gunboats aiming to stop them. 

Iran-sheikolislam International observers (including certain overworked Middle East correspondents) breathed a deep sigh of relief Friday after Iran called off its plan to try to break through Israel's blockade of the Palestinian enclave. 

Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship late last month in an incident that practically reconfigured the diplomatic topography of the Middle East. 

According to a Persian-language report by Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency, an Iranian foreign ministry official told reporters that an Iranian aid flotilla destined for Gaza this weekend has been called off. 

The vessel was originally to leave either Thursday or Sunday, but will be staying put for now, according to Hossein Sheikoleslam. 

"The Iranian flotilla will not go to Gaza," he told reporters in the northern Iranian city of Rasht, according to IRNA. "This flotilla was initially scheduled to leave on Thursday heading for Gaza. But due to the constraints created by the usurping Zionist government in not allowing certain types of goods to pass through, it was decided that the vessel would leave on Sunday, June 27. This will also not happen now."

In addition to his duties at the foreign ministry, Sheikoleslam heads the International Conference for Supporting the Palestinian Intifada. He said Iran ultimately backed down on the aid flotilla because it didn't want to politicize its humanitarian efforts. 

In any case, Israel has vowed to ease the blockade amid a firestorm of international criticism.

"Although Iranian aid is not dispatched by Iranian ships, these sorts of aid would be sent by other means," Sheikoleslam said. "The Zionist regime has turned the issue of sending aid to Gaza into a political one. We do not want such humanitarian issues to be turned into a political matter. For us, the most important thing is the breaking of the blockade."

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Hossein Sheikoleslam. Credit: IRNA