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Updated: June 1, 2010 21:15 IST

Israel deports activists detained after aid flotilla raid

DPA
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Pro-Palestinian supporters protest over Israel’s deadly commando raid on Monday, on ships taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza strip, in front of Israel’s embassy in Vienna, Austria, on Tuesday. Photo: Photo
Pro-Palestinian supporters protest over Israel’s deadly commando raid on Monday, on ships taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza strip, in front of Israel’s embassy in Vienna, Austria, on Tuesday. Photo: Photo

Israel began deporting on Tuesday pro-Palestinian activists detained in a naval commando raid on a six ship flotilla bearing aid to the Gaza Strip, after they identified themselves to Israeli authorities.

By late afternoon about 50 activists had been taken to Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, and another 610 who refused to identify themselves, were being held in a prison in southern Israel.

Israeli Internal Security Minister Yizhak Aharonovich warned that Israel would “prosecute to the full extent of the law anyone who lifted a hand against Israeli soldiers.” He said law enforcement authorities had already begun taking testimony and some of those who allegedly used violence had already been identified.

The identities and nationalities of the nine activists killed when Israeli soldiers battled it out with activists on board the largest ship in the flotilla early Monday, remained undisclosed.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said identifying the dead was difficult, since the Israelis were receiving no cooperation from activists still alive. Lack of identification made telling the fatalities’ nationalities difficult, he said.

Turkish nationals were reported to make up most, if not all, the fatalities. The Turkish embassy did not reply to a query on this by the German Press Agency dpa.

Israeli leaders remain unapologetic, defiant

The Israeli assault on the flotilla unleashed a wave of condemnation against Israel, but on Tuesday Israeli leaders remained unapologetic and defiant.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said a a UN Security Council resolution condemning the raid was “unacceptable and did not advance peace and stability in the Middle East.” He told UN Secretary—General Ban—Ki—Moon in a telephone conversation that the “hypocrisy and double standards of the international community concerning Israel” should be “regretted.” Mr. Lieberman told Mr. Moon that while the international community remained silent during the past month when “500 people were killed in various incidents in Thailand, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and India,” Israel “was condemned for taking a clear defensive action.” He said the Israeli troops who battled the activists on board the ship had the “basic right” to defend themselves against a group wielding iron bars, clubs and knives.

Audrey Bomse, spokeswoman for the pro—Palestinian Free Gaza Organization, said she regretted the violence, and accused Israel of initiating it.

She accused Israel of piracy for taking over the ships in international waters and blamed it for causing the panic and mayhem by launching the assault under the cover of darkness.

“This should have been a non—violent resistance,” she said. “They should have done it in daylight. You come jumping out of helicopters in the middle of the night, you’re asking for confusion.” She told dpa on Tuesday morning that she had not yet viewed the Israeli military footage which showed activists on board the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara physically attack with iron rods and chairs the Israeli naval commandos descending on the deck from helicopters.

The footage also shows activists pushing an Israeli soldier, who falls metres from the high level to the low level of the deck, and two black exploding dots which the military alleges were a Molotov cocktail and a grenade thrown by activists at the commandos.

Soldier with deep stab wounds

A soldier with deep stab wounds to the chest is also seen, and the commandos can be heard in Hebrew on their radios nervously requesting permission to use live ammunition because activists are allegedly opening fire at them. The Israeli commandos have charged they felt they were under a “lynch” attack and their lives endangered.

Ms. Bomse denied the activists had guns, but the army said the activists had snatched the two pistols from the soldiers.

She said the Free Gaza movement have yet to decide whether two more ships headed for Gaza will continue their journey.

The two ships are Ireland’s Rachel Corrie, with about 10 passengers on board, including Denis Halliday, the Irish former UN Human Rights Coordinator in Iraq, and the US—flagged Challenger, which is undergoing repairs in Nicosia.

“We have not made a final decision yet, but Rachel Corrie is coming. She left Malta on her way to Gaza the night before last and she should be coming near Crete today,” Ms. Bomse said, adding she was proceeding slowly.

“All of us want to go as an answer that this has not intimidated us, the Israeli criminal actions, but it has made us more determined than ever,” Ms. Bomse vowed.

Israel kills three Palestinians in northern Gaza

Israel killed three Palestinian militants in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, as they were about to launch a makeshift rocket at southern Israel, Palestinian medical officials and witnesses said.

The Israeli military confirmed only that Israel had “launched an attack” on a target in northern Gaza. A military spokeswoman gave no further details.

The Palestinian witnesses said the three were hit by an Israeli surface—to—surface missile.

Swedish Gaza activists safe, author Mankell heading for Sweden

All eleven Swedish nationals — including best— selling author Henning Mankell — who were on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip that was attacked by Israel this week, were accounted for on Tuesday.

Mr. Mankell and Green Party parliamentarian Mehmet Kaplan were both on a plane heading for Sweden, the online edition of the Expressen daily reported.

“We are worried about our friends that are still in custody,” Mr. Mankell was quoted as saying.

Several hundred foreign activists were detained Monday after an Israeli naval commando raid on the flotilla of six ships that claimed nine lives.

Six of the Swedish nationals were reported to be held in a prison in southern Israel along with other pro—Palestinian activists.

Mr. Mankell is author of the Wallander series of crime novels and has a large following in Germany.

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