DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran criticised Egypt on Wednesday for delays in issuing permits to bring in aid to Gaza and to transport wounded women and children out of the area for medical treatment.
Egypt's government, at odds with the Islamist Hamas group that runs Gaza, has added its own border closure to an Israeli blockade of the narrow strip of territory, in effect cutting off all routes to residents who have spent three weeks under Israeli bombardment. It rejected the allegations of unnecessary delay.
To get aid into Gaza, Iran has to fly it to Egypt and then take it across the Rafah border crossing. The only other option would be to go through Israel, unthinkable for Iran.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said 100 tonnes of humanitarian aid had been waiting for days for Egypt's approval to be taken into Gaza.
"For the past days, we have been providing the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and their interest section in Tehran with information on shipment of humanitarian goods and the list of 57 severely wounded Palestinian women and children we have offered to bring here for medical treatment, but they have yet to issue a permit," he told the official news agency IRNA.
"This is unacceptable. We hope Egypt will live up to its Arab, Islamic and humanitarian responsibilities against Zionist crimes in Gaza," said Abdollahian, who visited Lebanon this week to discuss the war in Gaza with the government and with leaders of the Shi'ite Hezbollah group, Iran's ally.
A statement from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry called Iran's claims "unfounded" and said they were surprising because Egypt had promised to ease the transfer of Iranian aid through established protocols.
"This raises doubts about the real motives for the repetition of such allegations and whether they are really connected to a true desire to aid our Palestinian brothers," it said.
The ministry said Tehran had asked to send Iranian doctors and government officials along with the humanitarian supplies, and had given too little notice before seeking to land a plane in Cairo on Saturday.
Since Islamist president Mohamed Mursi was ousted by the Egyptian army last July, Egypt has destroyed hundreds of border smuggling tunnels that were the lifeline of both Gaza and Hamas.
The move reinforced an Israeli blockade that has been in place since Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel and has fired thousands of rockets at it in the last three weeks, won Palestinian parliamentary polls in 2006.
Egypt views Hamas as a security threat because it is an offshoot of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's government has taken a more pragmatic line on the issue than supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called on Muslim countries on Tuesday to arm the Palestinians to defend themselves.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been telephoning regional counterparts, including Egypt's Sameh Shokri on Sunday.
Relations have been sour between Tehran and Cairo since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, when the government in Cairo gave sanctuary to the deposed shah.
(Reporting by Mehrdad Balali; and Stephen Kalin in Cairo; Editing by Kevin Liffey)