Protests held in Ireland over Israeli attack


About 1,700 people have attended a demonstration in Dublin this evening against the Israeli attack on an aid ship bound for Gaza.

Earlier today, Taoiseach Brian Cowen called for an international inquiry into the attack which left 10 pro-Palestinian activists dead.

Mr Cowen said he believed Israel’s blockade of humanitarian assistance to Gaza was illegal under international law.

“Whilst the Israeli government has withdrawn from Gaza, they remain a de facto occupying force since they decide what gets into Gaza and who gets out of it,” he said.

“The cause of this problem relates directly to the fact that there is a humanitarian blockade. I believe that is in violation of international law. People are entitled to have humanitarian assistance."

A protest, which has been organised by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), is currently taking place.

Demonstrators assembled on O'Connell Street before marching to the Israeli embassy in Ballsbridge. Speakers at the protest include TDs Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Chris Andrews, both of whom were refused access to the flotilla by the Cypriot authorities on Saturday. Dublin's Lord Mayor Emer Costello was among an estimated 1,700 people who attended tonight's protest.

Demonstrations were also held in in Belfast, Cork, Derry, Sligo and Waterford this evening. Up to 100

people also attended a protest at the Liam Mellows statue in Galway

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin today summoned the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Dr Zion Evrony, to a meeting to discuss the incident. Mr Martin said he was "gravely concerned" over the storming of the ships.

"The reports of up to 15 people killed and 50 injured, if confirmed, would constitute a totally unacceptable response by the Israeli military to what was a humanitarian mission attempting to deliver much needed supplies to the people of Gaza," he said.

At least 10 people were killed in the early hours of this morning after the Israeli navy boarded the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship, from the pro-Islamic aid group IHH, and Free Gaza’s Challenger 1, 130 kilometres off the coast of Gaza.

The ships were part of a six-vessel flotilla attempting to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that eight Irish citizens had travelled with the flotilla. A further four Irish passport holders, who hold dual nationalities, are also understood to be part of the convoy, a spokeswoman for the department said.

Five Irish activists who were aboard the 1,200-ton Irish-owned cargo ship Rachel Corrie, were earlier confirmed as safe. The vessel was initially delayed because of mechanical problems and only left Malta last night.

Siptu’s Ken Fleming said this morning the five were safe. “They want to let their families know they are alright. They told me that they still want to proceed to Gaza with the urgently needed humanitarian aid on board,” he said.

However, the status of the other seven Irish people with the convoy could not be confirmed.

Three Irish people - Dr Fintan Lane, Fiachra Ó Luain and Shane Dillon - were on board the Challenger 1, which had travelled from Cyprus in the first wave of the flotilla, according to Niamh Moloughney of the Free Gaza Ireland campaign.

The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign says that Mr Dillon has been deported, while Dr Lane and Mr O Luain are contesting their deportation and will be brought to court within 72 hours.

Freda Hughes from the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign said there are 11 identified people from the flotilla in hospital in Israel. “None of these are Irish. However there are 20 unidentified people in hospital. Some of them are afraid to identify themselves, and some are too badly injured to do so,” she said.

She said there were also two Irish Muslims aboard the Mavi Marmara. “They were processed through the IHH team. They flew to Turkey before boarding the boat. They're Dublin based normally and we are very worried about them".

Sydney Morning Herald journalist Paul McGeough, who was born in Co Monaghan and still travels on an Irish passport, and Australian photographer Kate Geraghty were out of communication for some hours after the clash. Ms Geraghty worked for a period with The Irish Times

in 2007.

"We are pleased to report that Paul McGeough and Kate Geraghty, who are among the most experienced and well-trained Australian foreign correspondents, are safe, and being processed in an Israeli detention centre," Sydney Morning Herald editor in chief Peter Fray said.

The Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs today announced plans to summon Dr Evrony to an emergency meeting later this week. The Palestinian Envoy to Ireland, Dr Hikmat Ajjuri, will also be invited.

IPSC chairman Dr David Landy today accused Israel of breaching international law. “The fact that Israel would allow its forces to kill and wound international human rights activists shows the world once again that Israeli is a rogue state that acts with impunity,” he claimed.

Mr Ó Snodaigh condemned the attack and called on Mr Martin to expel the Israeli ambassador. “It looks as though this cold and calculated attack took place in international waters, in breach of all international maritime laws. There must be action from the international community," the Sinn Féin TD said.

“At all stage of preparations to join the flotilla the organisers reiterated non-violent and peaceful resistance to any boarding by Israeli army. The Israelis had nothing to fear from this flotilla."

Mr Andrews said he was "deeply shocked but sadly not surprised" by today’s events. "Israel has proven repeatedly that it believes itself to be above international law, evidenced by the fact that it carried out these attacks in International waters," he said. “I have just spent a week with several of the people who were on board these boats and I can say with absolute certainty these people were only concerned with peacefully bringing badly needed aid to the region."

Irish Congress of Trade Unions president Jack O’Connor and general secretary David Begg issued a joint statement condemning the assault.

“The people on those boats were civilians engaged in peaceful humanitarian work, bringing much needed aid to the Gaza Strip and were no threat to anyone,” they said. “To launch a military assault on a humanitarian convoy is beyond the bounds of all that is acceptable and should be judged as such by the international community. The assault was akin to the actions of a rogue state.”

Amnesty International called for "credible and independent" inquiry. Noeleen Hartigan, programmes director for Amnesty International Ireland, said Israeli forces appear to have used excessive force. "Israel says its soldiers acted in self-defence, alleging that protesters attacked them, but it seems incredible that the level of lethal force used by Israeli troops could have possibly been justified," she said.

Labour Party spokesman on human rights Joe Costello said Israel's actions were a "violent and unprovoked attack on a peaceful flotilla". He accused Israel of acting like a "rogue state".