Israel begins deporting aid flotilla activists
Israel has begun deporting foreign activists detained during a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla as activists pledge new attempts to breach an Israeli blockade of the Palestinian enclave.
Israel began Wednesday deporting all the foreign activists detained during a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, but insisted that it would continue to thwart any further attempts to defy its blockade of the Palestinian territory.
Some 120 people, mostly Algerians and Indonesians, had crossed the land border into Jordan on Wednesday, while about 200 detainees had been transferred to an airport near Tel Aviv, a spokesman for the Israeli Prisons Service said.
The spokesman said the remaining activists would be released throughout the day.
The 682 captured passengers included Turks, Arabs, Americans, Asians and Europeans, including two politicians and Swedish author Henning Mankell.
Eight French activists are expected to be repatriated on Wednesday, according to Adnane Ben Youssef, a spokesman for the Paris-based International Civil Campaign for the Protection of Palestinians (CCIPPP).
“Seven French nationals will arrive in Paris, and one will go to Ireland since she also has Irish citizenship," Youssef told FRANCE 24.
Israel's decision to release the detainees followed two days of stinging international criticism over the degree of force a Navy commando used when it intercepted the blockade-busting mission to the Gaza strip.
Israeli troops said they had killed nine of the activists during Monday's operation.
Diverging accounts of operation
The mass prisoner release came as something of a surprise after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday described some of the activists as armed terrorists.
Israel insists casualties would have been avoided if the commandos had not been attacked by dozens of club-wielding passengers.
Israeli officials and the repatriated activists have given entirely different accounts of the deadly confrontation in international waters.
The first French national to be released, Youssef Ben Derbal, who arrived in Paris on Tuesday, told FRANCE 24 he was deeply shocked by the raid and his ensuing detention.
"There was an incredible display of force, we have been subjected to brutality,” said Derbal. “Another French detainee told me he had an M16 assault rifle pointed at him before receiving a blow on the jaw.”
The United States and the UN Security Council have called for prompt and impartial probes into the incident.
New flotillas in wait
Organisers of the aid convoy meanwhile insisted they would push ahead with a fresh bid to break the blockade.
"We knew what the risk would be and we will continue to run these flotillas," said Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement.
Berlin said another vessel, the Rachel Corrie, would be making another attempt to breach the blockade in the coming days.
The aid-laden cargo ship, currently off the east coast of Italy, is named after a US activist crushed to death in 2003 by an Israeli army bulldozer during a protest on the Gaza Strip.
Greta Berlin said organisers were also working on plans for a new flotilla that would leave for Gaza in July.
But Israel was adamant it would not let any ships through.
"We will not let any ships reach Gaza and supply what has become a terrorist base threatening the heart of Israel," Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told public radio.