TARTUS, Syria – Two Iranian warships docked at the Syrian port of Tartus in what was described as a training mission, following a provocative journey through the Suez Canal at a time of global tension over the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions.
The vessels, a destroyer and a supply ship, docked in the Syrian port after passing through the canal Saturday. Tartus is home to Damascus-ally Russia's only Mediterranean naval base.
The mission was "to provide maritime training to naval forces of Syria under an agreement signed between Tehran and Damascus a year ago," Iranian English-language broadcaster Press TV reported Monday.
The passage through the Suez Canal was only the second made by Iranian ships since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The move followed the passage of an Iranian frigate and supply ship on Feb. 22 last year. The ships successfully moved through the canal and then docked two days later at the Syrian port of Latakia, in a move Israel denounced as a "political provocation."
The latest development comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel, fueled by the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program and speculation that Israel might launch pre-emptive strikes against Iranian facilities.
The Syrian regime is engaged in a brutal crackdown on the 11-month uprising against Bashar al Assad's rule that has claimed more than 6,000 lives.
Activists in the embattled city of Homs warned that the regime's ranks received fresh reinforcements, raising fears of a full-scale assault after 17 consecutive days of bombardment.
"Infantry troops arrived yesterday [Sunday] in Homs," according to Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A Homs-based activist voiced fears of an imminent attack on Baba Amr, the main rebel stronghold in the central city, speaking of "unprecedented military reinforcements coming from Damascus," AFP reported.
Attacks on Homs killed nine out of the 15 people killed across Syria on Monday, the Observatory said, adding to at least 14 killed nationwide Sunday.