Egypt approves passage of Iranian warships

Egypt has approved the passage of two Iranian navy ships through the Suez Canal, an army source said yesterday.

The move could anger Israel, whose right-wing Foreign Minister has called Iran's actions a provocation.

"Egypt has agreed to the passage of two Iranian ships through the Suez Canal," the army source told Reuters. State television and Egypt's official news agency subsequently reported the news, without giving sources.

Iran's request was an early diplomatic test for Egypt's interim military government, which has close ties to the United States and has been ruling since 11 February when President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after huge protests. Egypt's Western allies are watching for any hints of a shift in policy towards its Middle East neighbours, especially Israel, with which it has a peace treaty. The two ships would be the first Iranian military vessels to pass through the canal since Iran's 1979 revolution.

To navigate the strategic waterway, naval vessels need the approval of Egypt's Foreign and Defence Ministries. The Suez Canal Authority had yet to receive approval, a canal official said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday that Iran's plan to send the ships through the canal en route to Syria was a "provocation". Israel's state-funded Channel One television said later that Mr Lieberman, a partner in the conservative coalition, had spoken out of turn and the Defence Ministry "had preferred to ignore" the ships. Israel made no immediate comment after approval was given.

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