Israel deports seized activists


Israel today deported the last of the nearly 700 foreign activists held after its deadly raid on the
Gaza aid flotilla.

Amid international outrage over the deaths of nine people in the raids, Israel has warned it would stop other ships attempting to reach the Hamas-run enclave.

Israel ordered everyone thrown out of the country after deciding not to prosecute any of the activists, including at least five Irish citizens who were detained in the raid.

Officials had earlier said they were considering prosecuting about 50 people believed to be involved in violence, but the country’s attorney general said today that “keeping them here would do more damage to the country’s vital interests than good”.

Israel came under harsh international condemnation after commandos stormed the flotilla in international waters, setting off the deadly clashes. Israel said its soldiers opened fire only after being attacked by activists, who said they were trying to breach the blockade of Gaza to take in aid.

The raid that ended with Israeli soldiers killing nine activists has strained diplomatic ties, sending Israeli relations with Turkey, in particular, to a new low.

At least seven Irish passport-holders were brought to Israel after commandos stormed the six-ship flotilla in the early hours of Monday morning. The boats, which were carrying aid supplies to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade, were well outside the exclusion zone when the raid occurred.

At least nine people died in the operation, which has prompted a call by the UN Security Council for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent” investigation. Most of the dead were Turkish nationals.

The detained Irish citizens were finally allowed consular access yesterday. They told Irish diplomats that they had been treated harshly by the Israelis, but none required hospital treatment.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen, speaking in the Dáil during Leaders' Questions this morning, urged the Israeli government to immediately release the Irish and other detainees. "It’s understood that arrangements will be made [for their departure] from the airport which is two hours from the prison,” he said. “The Irish ambassador is in contact with all the families involved and will inform them the minute the release is official.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin welcomed Israel’s decision to release the remaining activists, saying he looked forward to the “prompt and safe return” of the Irish citizens. “I am pleased that, in response to the clear calls made by many in the international community, including the Irish Government and the UN Security Council, Israel has now decided to release immediately all those still in detention,” Mr Martin said.

One of those detained, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign member Shane Dillon, flew back to Ireland last night. Another, Isam Bin Ali, a naturalised Irish citizen originally from Libya, is due to return today.

Five other Irish passport holders, including Dr Fintan Lane, Fiachra Ó Luain, Al Mahdi Alharati, and an Irish-American activist named Ken O’Keeffe, are still being detained in the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheba.

Several Irish activists, including Nobel peace laureate Mairéad Corrigan-Maguire and former UN official Denis Halliday, are on board the Irish-owned vessel MV Rachel Corrie which is en route to Gaza.

The Irish Government has called on Israel to allow the boat, currently in the eastern Mediterranean, safe passage to Gaza to discharge its cargo of humanitarian supplies. Mr Cowen said the Government was “in constant contact with the Israeli government in relation to this matter, advising absolute restraint in relation to this vessel as it goes about its humanitarian purpose.”

Turkey said today it was ready to normalise ties with Israel if it lifts the blockade on Gaza. Ankara recalled its ambassador to Israel following Monday's storming of the Turkish-backed flotilla. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutogu said "it was time calm replaces anger" in the wake of the raid. He said the future of Turkish-Israeli ties depended on Israel's attitude.

Egypt said yesterday it had opened its Rafah border crossing to Gaza “for an unlimited time” to allow Palestinians and aid to cross into the territory.

Israel’s security cabinet said it regretted the loss of life but insisted the actions constituted an act of defence against “violent provocation”. It also said it would continue its blockade. “The cabinet determines that setting limitations on boat traffic to Gaza, ruled by the Hamas terror group, is a clear act of self-defence,” a statement said.