Two Israel Navy warships made a rare crossing of Egypt's Suez Canal on Tuesday, heading from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea in a voyage that could be seen as a warning signal to Iran.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that the crossings were legitimate in accordance with an agreement between Cairo and Jerusalem.
One of the ships, the Hanit, had reportedly already crossed the canal both ways in June, in what a port source called the first case of a large Israeli warship using the strategic waterway. However, this was not possible to confirm officially.
The other ship to cross on Tuesday, the Eilat, was named after a destroyer sunk by Egypt with the loss of 47 lives shortly after the 1967 Six Day War, the source told AFP.
Israeli defense officials said that two missile boats did cross the canal, but they spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter.
During the maneuver in June, the Hanit accompanied an Israeli Dolphin-class submarine for a drill off Eilat - the first such voyage for the secret craft and a sign of Israel's growing strategic reach, Reuters quoted defense sources as saying.
Witnesses told Reuters the vessel docked briefly at Eilat's naval base before departing. But an Israeli defense official was quoted as saying there would be no permanent deployment there of the German-made submarines - of which Israel has three, with two more on order.
A senior Egyptian security official later denied reports that an Israeli submarine had sailed the Suez Canal last month as part of a naval drill.
"Egypt does not allow Israeli warships to enter our territory," Army Radio quoted the official as saying.
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