TEHRAN, Iran – The Israeli Navy has intercepted an Iranian ship loaded with medicine, food and clothing destined for Gaza and forced the vessel to head toward an Egyptian port, Iran's state television reported Wednesday.
Ahmad Navabi, head of the humanitarian aid group sponsoring the ship, said in comments aired on television Wednesday that the Israel Navy approached the cargo ship, Shahed, just 20 miles off the coast of Gaza at dawn Wednesday, and ordered it to turn back.
"An Israeli warship approached our cargo ship and warned us not to approach Gaza. We could see the lights at Gaza coast. We were forced to change route toward an Egyptian port," Navabi said.
The ship is carrying 2,000 tons of medicine, food and clothing to Palestinians living in Gaza.
Navabi said his group may have to try to send the humanitarian aid to Gaza through the Rafah land crossing at the Egyptian border. The ship left the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas two weeks ago.
Iran has already sent a cargo plane filled with 50 tons of relief assistance to Egypt to be sent on to Gaza.
Iran has condemned Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip and said Iran would stand by the Palestinians.
Israel's bombardment of Gaza, which has killed more than 940 Palestinians since Dec. 27, has sparked outrage in Iran and throughout the Muslim world. Israel has said it launched its campaign to stop rocket fire aimed at civilians in southern Israeli towns by Hamas. Iran is Hamas' main backer, providing it political and financial support, though Tehran denies sending the organization weapons.
Iranian authorities issued an order last week banning international companies from working in Iran if they are found to have any shares owned by Israelis. And on Sunday, the Iranian government said it plans to impose sanctions on foreign companies dealing with Israel but it is not clear how or when will it be carried out.
In another gesture of support for Palestinians, Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a religious opinion, or fatwa, declaring the purchase of any Israeli goods or trade with Israeli companies to be forbidden.
In the opinion posted on his Web site, Khamenei urged Muslims throughout the world to avoid purchase, import, re-import and promotion of any products Israelis may profit from.
"All Muslims are required to avoid purchase and use of goods that bring profit to Zionists who are at war with Islam and Muslims," Khamenei said.
A fatwa is a religious opinion that Muslims obey if they revere the person issuing it, which in the case of Khamenei would be restricted largely to Iranian Shiites.
Iran doesn't recognize Israel and has no trade ties with the Jewish state but the ruling affects international companies operating in Iran whose shareholders could prove to be Israelis.