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Middle East

Iran 'organised plot to blow up an Israeli ship'

The Egyptian authorities claim to have foiled an Iranian attempt to blow up Israeli vessels in the Suez Canal, a government-linked newspaper has reported.

Details of the alleged plot are likely to escalate tensions between Israel and Iran, who are locked in a stand-off over Tehran's nuclear programme that many fear could trigger a new war in the Middle East. Israeli officials were unable to confirm the details, but said it was significant that the report had been published in Al-Ahram Weekly, a semi-official newspaper.

Quoting state prosecutors, Al-Ahram said Egyptian police were holding two Egyptian nationals who are charged with receiving orders and payment from Iranian agents to blow up an Israeli ship.

The two allegedly offered a third suspect, Mohammed Zakri, £5.1m to carry out the attack. Mr Zakri was reportedly told that he would be "paid by the Shiites", apparently a reference to Tehran.

Amid heavy sabre-rattling by Iran, which appeared to be sending a signal to Israel and the West when its warships passed through the Suez Canal in recent months, Egypt has signalled to the Iranians that it will not tolerate an attack against Israeli interests on its territory.

Israel has accused Iran of involvement in unsuccessful attacks on Israeli targets in the past month in India, Thailand and Georgia. In turn, Iran holds Israel responsible for the assassination of several of its nuclear scientists.