The Navy intercepted an Iranian ship loaded with medicine, food and clothing destined for Gaza, the IDF said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the boat docked in port Sayid, Egypt, but the Egyptians refused to allow it to unload its cargo. Nevertheless, at midnight Tuesday, the boat left port Sayid and tried to go to Gaza.
A Navy Sa'ar 4.5 class ship intercepted the Iranian boat and transmitted a clear message on Channel 16 - the international communication line for ships - that it would not allow it to enter the waters around Gaza.
On Wednesday morning, when it was 30 miles off the Gaza coast, the Iranian boat again tried to move towards the Strip, and the Navy again intercepted it, the army said. It then returned to el-Arish, in Egypt, and two Egyptian boats prevented it from docking there.
Since that time, the boat has been sitting 30 miles off the coast of Gaza and has been closely tracked by the Israeli navy.
Israel has been coordinating all activity regarding the Iranian boat with the Egyptians.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that Iran would do what it can to get the ship to Gaza, state television reported.
The head of the humanitarian aid group sponsoring the ship, Ahmad Navabi, said in comments aired on television Wednesday that the Israeli navy approached the cargo ship, Shahed, just 20 miles off the coast of Gaza at dawn 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.
Iranian state television broadcast what they said was a radio exchange between the Israeli navy and the Iranian ship in which the Israelis said: "Gaza is closed. Leave the area immediately."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday Iran has stepped up diplomatic efforts to push for an end to the Israeli assault on Gaza, state television reported.
"In short term, the most important measures are to end (Israeli) assault on Gaza, end the Gaza blockade and recognize the rights of the Gaza people," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.
Navabi said his group may try to send the humanitarian aid to Gaza through Egypt to Gaza. The ship left the Iran two weeks ago.
Iran has already sent a cargo plane filled with 50 tons of aid to Egypt to be sent on to Gaza.
This is the first Iranian boat to try to reach Gaza during the siege. On Dec. 30, a boat carrying activists and medical supplies to Gaza was turned back after an altercation with the Israeli navy. Israeli officials said the boat tried to outmaneuver an Israeli navy ship and crashed into it, lightly damaging both vessels.
But activists on the ship said the Israeli vessel rammed the ship, which returned to Lebanon.
That trip was organized by the Free Gaza Movement, which previously made five deliveries of aid by boat to Gaza since August, defying a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas won control of the territory in June 2007. The activist group on Wednesday sent another boat loaded with supplies to Gaza from Cyprus after a previous effort Monday was aborted due to rough weather and engine trouble.
The navy said it was prepared to prevent the Free Gaza boat from entering Gaza waters.
Meanwhile, in a gesture of support with the Palestinians in Gaza, 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.
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 in Iran who also deal with Israel. It is not clear how or when the ban might be carried out, and no details were given regarding the sanctions.
In the fatwa posted on his Web site, Khamenei said Muslims throughout the world must avoid the purchase, 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 Muslims obey if they revere the person issuing it, which in the case of Khamenei would be restricted largely to Shi'ites in Iran and other parts of the world.