• June 2, 2010

Gaza aid flotilla attack: Israel starts to deport activists

Gaza aid flotilla attack: Israel starts to deport activists



More than 120 activists from Muslim countries were taken to the border with Jordan early this morning. Around 60 Turkish detainees were waiting for flights at Ben Gurion airport, while another 70 were en route to the airport to be repatriated.

There was no immediate word on the fate of 42 British nationals who were on the convoy of ships taken over by the Israeli navy with the loss of nine lives. One was deported immediately but the remainder were being seen by British consulate staff on Tuesday afternoon and evening.

The man deported, Hasan Nowarah, from Glasgow, flew home on Tuesday evening.

“All I could hear was screaming and bullets all over the place, over the Marmara, the Turkish ship,” he told Sky News.

“All you could see was screaming and bullets. Out of the blue as I looked around our ship, all I could see were hundreds of Zodiacs.

“Hundreds of Zodiacs full of soldiers, and big ships, lots of ships, and I believe as well submarines in the sea.”

Some of the Britons had been travelling without passports, and others had destroyed their papers, diplomats were told. There may be more British citizens among the many detainees who initially refused to identify themselves.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who is under intense pressure over the bungled raid both from countries around the world and at home, remained defiant last night. He told a meeting of Israel’s inner cabinet that he would not bow to pressure to lift the blockade on Gaza, which the activists were trying to break.

“Gaza is a terror state funded by the Iranians, and therefore we must try to prevent any weapons from being brought into Gaza by air, sea and land,” he said.

But it emerged that his cabinet secretary had argued that the flotilla be allowed to reach Gaza to prevent an international outcry should a confrontation turn violent.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, welcomed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an impartial investigation by the Israelis. That resolution was watered down at the insistence of the United States, and it is clear that there will be no mandated international inquiry.

Egypt, which also maintains the blockade on its own border with Gaza, lifted it indefinitely on Tuesday. Gazans rushed to make use of the window of opportunity to leave the territory and seek supplies.

But an Israeli official would only say that there was “ongoing dialogue” with the international community about how much humanitarian aid is let through.

The Israelis maintain a total block on exports, tight restrictions on the number of people allowed through the border crossing, and limits food and medical supplies to a minimum, bringing much economic activity to a standstill.

The activists deported on Wednesday morning accused the Israeli authorities of mistreating them in custody.

“The Israelis roughed up and humiliated all of us, women, men and children,” a Kuwaiti MP among them, Walid al-Tabtabai, said as he crossed the Allenby Bridge connecting the West Bank with Jordan.

“They were brutal and arrogant, but our message reached every corner of the world that the blockade on Gaza is unfair and should be lifted immediately.”

An Algerian, Izzeddine Zahrour, said detainees were “deprived of food, water and sleep, and we weren’t allowed to use the toilet.”

“It was an ugly kidnapping and subsequently bad treatment in Israeli jail,” he said. “They handcuffed us, pushed us around and humiliated us.”

Israel said around 50 activists it accuses of taking part in violent attacks on the troops sent to board the convoy would continue to be held.