Babylon & Beyond

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EGYPT: Iranian naval vessels withdraw request to travel through Suez Canal

February 17, 2011 |  6:51 am

Suez Two Iranian naval vessels on Thursday withdrew a request to transit the Suez Canal after Israel expressed concerns about the plans, a senior canal official told the Associated Press.

The official said no reason was given for the decision to withdraw the application. The official, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said it was not known if the ships intended to transit the waterway at a later date.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said, however, that no request was made to Egyptian authorities.

The Suez Canal official identified the two vessels as the Alvand, a frigate, and the Kharq, a supply ship, and said they were en route to Syria. He said they were now in an area near Saudi Arabia's Red Sea port of Jiddah.

Spokesmen for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministry refused to comment to the Associated Press.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday that Iran was about to send two naval vessels through the Suez Canal for the first time in years, calling it a "provocation."

Egypt's official MENA news agency quoted Ahmed Manakhly, a senior Suez Canal official, as denying that the waterway's management had received any requests by Iranian navy ships to transit the canal.

On Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed the presence of the two Iranian ships in the area of the canal but would not say whether that was considered provocative.

"There are two ships in the Red Sea," Crowley told the Associated Press, "What their intention is, what their destination is, I can't say."

Vessels intending to transit the canal, which connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean, must give the waterway's authority at least 24 hours notice. Naval vessels must be cleared in advance by the Egyptian defense and foreign ministries, but clearance is rarely withheld.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: The U.S. aircraft carrier Enterprise transits the Suez Canal on Tuesday on its way to the Persian Gulf. Credit: William Clay / AFP/Getty Images