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Iran Backs Down from Arming Flotilla

Iran has backed off from putting a military escort on board two ships headed for Gaza. Ahmadinejad had said he wanted “to teach Israel a lesson.”
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 6/14/2010, 9:14 PM / Last Update: 6/14/2010, 8:58 PM

Fars News Agency

Iran has backed off from a threat to place “voluntary” marines on a ship headed to Hamas-controlled Gaza, saying Iranians “do not want to fight [but] are willing to become martyred in this way.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week that he would provide marines on the ship “to teach Israel a lesson” if attempts were made to stop the flotilla from reaching Gaza.

"Such a thing is not on the guards' agenda," Revolutionary Guards deputy commander Hossein Salami was quoted as saying by Iran’s official news agency Irna. An aide to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei previously said that Iran was prepared to provide a military escort for the boats.

Israel is set to significantly ease the land embargo on goods and material headed for Gaza, the Quartet's Middle East envoy Tony Blair announced Monday. He added that Israel has said it will maintain the maritime blockade to keep arms and ammunition from reaching Hamas terrorists via the Mediterranean Sea.

On May 31, Israeli Navy commandos killed nine Turkish men who brutally assaulted them with metal rods and shot at them as they boarded the Mavi Mamara vessel, which refused the IDF's repeated request to change course from Gaza. After the ship was finally escort to the port of Ashdod, it was discovered that it was not carrying any humanitarian aid.

The Red Crescent said its ships would deliver medicine to Gaza, although Israel has allowed tons of drugs and medical supplies to enter Gaza. Israeli hospitals also have treated dozens of Gaza Arabs who were allowed by the IDF to leave Gaza for treatment.

Islamic Republic Member of Parliament Mahmoud Ahmadi-Biqash claimed that the Egyptian government has agreed to issue visas for 70 Iranian legislators who have registered to travel to Gaza, according to the Tehran Times.

One of two Iranian Red Crescent ships already has set sail for Gaza, and another boat is expected to begin its journey later this week, but without armed guards. Last year, Israel stopped an Iranian ship from reaching Gaza, and the boat changed its course to El Arish, Egypt.

An official at Iran's Society for the Defense of the Palestinian Nation reportedly said, "Until the end of the Gaza blockade, Iran will continue to ship aid."