Suez Canal says no go-ahead yet for Iran warships

CAIRO Sat Feb 19, 2011 6:55am EST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's Suez Canal Authority has not yet received military approval to allow two Iranian navy ships to pass north into the Mediterranean, a source at the authority said on Saturday.

"The two ships have not yet reached the southern entrance of the Canal and are not even in the waiting area," the source told Reuters.

"The approval may reach us at any moment and the Suez Canal will agree to their passage immediately after the approval has been received," the source added. Approval would allow the ships "to enter with the first convoy coming from the south."

They would be the first Iranian military vessels to transit the canal since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

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."

An Egyptian army source said on Friday the military had given its approval to Iran's request, which has presented an early diplomatic test to Egypt's interim government after the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak last week.

Egypt's Western allies are watching for hints of any shift in policy toward its neighbors, especially Israel, with which it has a peace treaty.

Northbound ships head through the canal every day in a convoy that begins entering from the Red Sea at 6 a.m. (0400 GMT).

(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed; editing by Kevin Liffey)

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