Iran on Monday announced it was sending two ship loads of aid into Gaza later this week and asserted that its Navy was ready to escort vessels wanting to deliver humanitarian assistance to residents of the besieged coastal strip.
State-run Press TV quoted Iran’s Red Crescent chief as saying doctors and relief workers would be on board the ships. The cargo on one of the vessels would include food, medicine and appliances.
Red Crescent director Abdolraoof Adibzadeh said aid would be sent into Gaza through the Rafah border in Egypt “before the week is through”.
He added that “a navy hospital ship for the people of Gaza, which will have onboard doctors, nurses and all the medical equipment required for emergency surgeries and procedures”, was also being dispatched.
Iran's assertion coincided with fresh warnings from Turkey and Syria to Israel that it must lift the siege around Gaza. Syria is Iran's close ally, while ties between Ankara and Tehran are on the upswing, especially after Turkey's recent involvement in the efforts to resolve Iran's nuclear row with the West.
Monday's announcement by Iran was preceded by a statement from a high-ranking official that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Iran's elite military force, would be ready to escort aid ships to Gaza.
“If the respected leader of the revolution gives an order in this regard, the Revolutionary Guards’ naval forces will take a practical step using their capability and equipment to escort flotillas to Gaza,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's advisor in the IRGC naval wing, Ali Shirazi, told Mehr news agency on Sunday.
Analysts say dispatch of Iranian ships to Gaza, especially under a naval escort, is bound to surge tensions between Iran and Israel and rivet international attention to this explosive development.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Israel on Monday that the situation in Gaza was unsustainable.
“Palestine and Gaza are a giant prison and this situation cannot continue,” said Mr. Erodgan during a joint press conference with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “We can no longer remain silent and we will not be silent anymore regarding anything having to do with Gaza,” he asserted. On his part, Mr. Assad observed that the flotilla raid was not “just another crime but a crime that exposes Israel's true face”.
Tensions between Turkey and Israel are rising rapidly as Ankara presses Tel Aviv to agree to an international probe into the raid on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish flagged ship. Israeli officials have reacted angrily to a Lebanese report that Mr. Erdogan is planning to visit Gaza on board a Turkish warship. “If he [Mr. Erdogan] comes here with Turkish warships there can be no doubt that it would amount to a declaration of war,” Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Major-General Uzi Dayan as saying. “We need to draw a clear line and say that whoever crosses it will not be boarded but sunk.”