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Iranian warships sail into the Mediterranean

By the CNN Wire Staff
February 19, 2012 -- Updated 0302 GMT (1102 HKT)
Iranian patrol frigate Alvand transits through the Suez Canal in this file picture dated February 22, 2011.
Iranian patrol frigate Alvand transits through the Suez Canal in this file picture dated February 22, 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The ships are reportedly heading to Syria
  • It's only the second time such ships have crossed the Suez Canal since 1979
  • The move comes amid heightened regional tensions
  • Report: The mission carries a "message of peace and friendship," a rear admiral says

(CNN) -- Two Iranian warships sailed through Egypt's Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea, Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency reported Saturday, amid heightened tensions in the region.

The move represents only the second time such ships have crossed the Suez Canal since the Islamic republic's 1979 revolution.

The first time took place in February 2011, just days after Egypt's post-Hosni Mubarak government gave the green light to the passage -- putting Egypt's new military leaders in a prickly position with its Israeli neighbor.

"As the Navy affected the region with its presence in the Mediterranean Sea last year, the Navy's 18th fleet will in the best way carry the message of peace and friendship to regional countries, and display the might of the country and the sacred system of the Islamic Republic of Iran," said Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, according to Mehr.

It was not clear from the report where the two vessels, a destroyer and a supply ship, were headed. However, another semi-official Iranian news agency, ISNA, said the ships were on their way to Syria.

The canal is an internal body of water, and as such, Egypt has sovereignty over it. But Egypt also is bound by the 1978 Camp David Accords, which guarantee the right of free passage by ships belonging to Israel and all other nations on the basis of the Constantinople Convention of 1888.

The warships' reported movement comes as tensions between Iran and Israel are high, with speculation of a pre-emptive Israeli strike on Iran to stop its suspected nuclear weapons program. Israel has also blamed Tehran for attacks on Israeli targets in India, Georgia and Thailand.

The United States and the European Union bolstered sanctions against Iran after a November report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that said Iran could be developing nuclear weapons. Iran insists its program is strictly for civilian energy purposes.

On Friday, Western nations welcomed a letter from Iran offering a resumption of stalled nuclear talks, though they were still determining the Islamic republic's sincerity.

The Suez Canal is a key waterway for international trade. It connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea, allowing ships to navigate between Europe and Asia without having to go around Africa. Millions of barrels of oil move through the Suez every day en route to Europe and North America.

CNN's Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report.

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