Iran Revolutionary Guards Offer to Escort Gaza-bound Ships

Any intervention by the Iranian military would be considered highly provocative by Israel which accuses Iran of supplying weapons to Hamas.

Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards are ready to provide a military escort to cargo ships trying to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, a representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday.

"Iran's Revolutionary Guards naval forces are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities," Ali Shirazi, Khamenei's representative inside the Revolutionary Guards, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with senior Revolutionary Guard officials
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Any intervention by the Iranian military would be considered highly provocative by Israel which accuses Iran of supplying weapons to Hamas, the Islamist movement which rules Gaza.

The Guards, with their own navy, air force and command structure separate from the regular armed forces, are seen as fiercely loyal to the values of the Islamic Republic.

"If the Supreme Leader issues an order for this then the Revolutionary Guard naval forces will do their best to secure the ships," Shirazi said. "It is Iran's duty to defend the innocent people of Gaza."

Israel Navy commandos last Monday killed nine activists in clashes on board the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara in a convoy trying to deliver aid to Gaza. The incident sparked international outrage, especially in Muslim countries and in Turkey, which threatened to cut its long-standing ties with Israel.

Israeli troops boarded another ship on Saturday and pro-Palestinian activists have promised more as they challenge the blockade imposed four years ago with the stated aim of stopping arms getting to Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue to stop ships reaching the shore and creating "an Iranian port in Gaza", a reference to Iran's support for Hamas.