Iran ships to return via Suez Canal, says official

ISMAILIA, Egypt Wed Mar 2, 2011 2:29pm EST

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ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Two Iranian naval ships, whose passage through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean last month Israel described as a "provocation," will return via the canal to the Red Sea on Thursday, an official said.

Coinciding with political turmoil in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, Iran's decision to send warships close to Israeli territory has rattled politicians in the Jewish state.

The ships arrived on February 23 in Syria, an ally of Iran and enemy of Israel, after passing through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, the first Iranian navy vessels to do so since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

"Tomorrow (Thursday), the Iranian ships will cross the canal with the convoy starting in the north from the Mediterranean," a canal official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters, adding that they would head through the canal on Thursday morning.

Iran's navy has said the ships, a naval frigate and a supply ship, were not performing any military exercises but were on a routine friendly visit, carrying a "message of peace and friendship" to the world.

(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed, Writing by Edmund Blair in Cairo, editing by Tim Pearce)

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