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Iran ships yet to enter Suez Canal, official says

CAIRO (Reuters) - Two Iranian naval ships are due to sail through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean on Monday, Suez Canal officials said, denying a report from Iran that said the ships had already gone through the waterway.

The vessels, the first Iranian naval ships to sail through the canal since 1979, are due to arrive at the southern entrance to the canal in the Gulf of Suez later on Sunday, the officials said.

Earlier on Sunday, Iran's Arabic language state television channel Al Alam TV reported that the ships had passed through the Suez Canal.

The military, which has been running Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled on February 11, approved Iran's request to send the ships through the canal, an Egyptian army source said on Friday.

The request was a difficult one for Egypt's interim government. Cairo is an ally of the United States and has a peace treaty with Israel, and its relations with Iran have been strained since Iran's 1979 revolution.

The prospect of Iranian warships sailing through the canal into the Mediterranean for the first time since 1979 alarmed Israel whose foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, described it as a provocation.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Millership)