Activists claim Israeli officials beat them


Five Irish citizens seized during the Israeli storming of a Gaza aid flotilla are in Turkey today preparing further travel plans.

One of the Irish citizens, Al Mahdi Alharati, had his journey home to Ireland delayed after he became ill and was taken to hospital in the Turkish capital Ankara. It is understood he has been treated by doctors and is well.

Four other men were taken to Istanbul last night. They include leading activists Fiachra Ó Luain and Dr Fintan Lane who are expected to make plans to return to Ireland in the next 24 hours.

Speaking from Istanbul today, Dr Lane recalled the Israeli raid on the Gaza convoy: "When they boarded our boat, we resisted entirely peacefully. I sat on the floor and tried to reason with them, but the Israeli commandos physically attacked us".

"Fiachra was dragged around the ground and I had a gun pointed in my face by a screaming commando. His mania was so intense that I genuinely feared for my life. Others received beatings".

Dr Lane also spoke of the beatings some passengers received at the airport in Tel Aviv: "Fiachra was beaten up at the airport and has to go into hospital today for tests," he said.

He said Ken O'Keefe, the Irish-American passenger, suffered a severe beating at the hands of security officials at Tel Aviv airport before boarding, and his injuries were so bad that he had to be hospitalised in Tel Aviv.

Irish-Australian journalist Paul McGeough is expected to make his own arrangements along with a Turkish-Irish national.

They were among hundreds of people detained by authorities and released under massive international pressure following the deadly military-led action on the aid flotilla. Nine people were killed in the attack.

Mr Alharati, a father-of-four originally from Libya, was stretchered off a flight to Ankara last night with another man. He suffers from diabetes and an underlying heart condition.

There were reports of scuffles at Ben Gurion airport last night as detainees were passing through security to board flights out of Israel. Mr Ó Luain was injured when a row broke out with Israeli authorities in an area where about 400 detainees were being held.

He suffered injuries to his body but it is understood he was not seriously hurt.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “We have a copy of the doctor’s assessment of his condition and how he might have received his injuries. We had seen him in Be’er Sheva (detention camp) and we can tell for ourselves how he was in Be’er Sheva and how he was when he arrived in Istanbul.

“If there is evidence that he was assaulted in Ben Gurion, we will be raising this with Israeli authorities and looking for a full account of what occurred.”

Consular staff were with Mr Ó Luain in hospital in Istanbul and Foreign Affairs officials in Ireland have been liaising with his family.

The day after the aid flotilla was stormed, Taoiseach Brian Cowen warned in the Dáil of the “most serious consequences” if any Irish people were injured.

The first Irish campaigner to return home, Dubliner Shane Dillon, called on the world to stand united against Israel and impose sanctions.

Mr Dillon (36) accused armed forces of destroying footage of the assault by damaging equipment owned by journalists before physically attacking activists with stun guns and paintball pellets.

Meanwhile, one of the last boats in the Gaza mission, the Irish-owned MV Rachel Corrie is continuing its slow journey to the Israeli-imposed exclusion zone. It is expected to hit the embargo area tomorrow night or Saturday morning.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has said Irish officials have continued to make it clear to the Israeli government, through its ambassador in Dublin, that maximum restraint is to be used on the vessel.