Martin accuses Israel of 'kidnapping' Irish citizens


MEETING WITH ENVOY:MINISTER FOR Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has condemned Israel’s “unacceptable and disproportionate” use of force against the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, and he accused Israel of “essentially kidnapping” Irish citizens who were aboard ships targeted by the Israeli military.

Mr Martin was speaking after he summoned Israeli ambassador Zion Evrony to a meeting at Iveagh House late yesterday afternoon. He said he told Dr Evrony that the Irish Government wants an independent, international inquiry into the incident. He also called for the unconditional release of Irish citizens detained in Ashdod after they were taken from the flotilla.

“These people did not enter Israel illegally. They were essentially kidnapped from international waters, taken into Israel, and asked to sign documents confirming that they entered illegally. That is unacceptable,” he said.

The minister added that he had conveyed the Government’s “dismay and condemnation” that Ireland’s Ambassador to Israel had been denied consular access to those in Ashdod. He deplored Israel’s denial of information about the incident and called for it to exercise “absolute restraint” in its dealings with the Irish-owned vessel MV Rachel Corrie,which is on route to Gaza.

Asked how the incident may impact on Ireland’s relationship with Israel, already strained because of the fraudulent use of Irish passports by the alleged assassins of a Hamas official in Dubai earlier this year, Mr Martin said: “The relationship with Israel, because of this and other events, is difficult. But we want to first establish the full facts in relation to this incident ... We are only at the early stages of unravelling what actually happened and we are very anxious to get the fullest picture as soon as possible.”

Mr Martin told Dr Evrony that he took issue with the way Israeli officials have attempted to denigrate those taking part in the flotilla. “This flotilla is not an armada of hate and violence ... The people on board the ships are people of deep conviction and humanitarian concern ... who wanted to bring aid to Gaza and highlight the situation there and their opposition to it. Their right to protest should be respected,” he said.

“I made the point that the only reason for the flotilla was the fact that there is an illegal blockade against Gaza.”

Speaking after the meeting with Mr Martin, Dr Evrony said he would convey the Government’s views to Israel. He expressed regret for the loss of life and said it was not Israel’s intention. He said Israel had hoped the incident would end peacefully.

“[Israeli forces] were attacked violently with live ammunition and knives. They felt their lives were in danger and they felt that they had to protect themselves. They responded and as a result, tragically, a few were killed,” he added.

Asked if the incident would damage relations between the two countries, Dr Evrony replied: “I hope not. The relationship between Israel and Ireland is strong, and will continue to be strong.” He said he was neither ashamed nor embarrassed by what had happened.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said Israeli actions appeared to be “very disproportionate”, as he called for an international inquiry. He said Israel had violated international law by imposing a blockade against humanitarian assistance to Gaza and he questioned whether there was a legal basis for the Israelis to board vessels in international waters.