Know More About Palestine

Wednesday June 2, 2010 1:41 PM (EST+7)

JERUSALEM, June 2 (Jeffrey Heller/Reuters) - Israel planned to complete on Wednesday the deportation of all of the pro-Palestinian activists seized in a lethal takeover of a Gaza aid flotilla and vowed to stop other ships from reaching the Hamas-run enclave.

Amid international outrage over the deaths of nine people in the interception at sea, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak visited commandos who took part in the raid and told them: I came in the name of the Israeli government to say 'thank you'.

Israel said it would deport 682 activists from more than 35 countries detained after the assault in international waters on Monday on six aid ships bound for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, where Hamas Islamists opposed to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hold sway.

By midday on Wednesday, about 200 activists had been transferred from a holding center to Ben-Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, a Prisons Service spokesman said, and 123 passed through a border crossing into neighbouring Jordan.

The remaining activists would be released throughout the day, the spokesman said. All have been held incommunicado by Israeli authorities.

Praising naval commandos for an operation that Israeli military affairs commentators have described as bungled, Barak said at the marines' base near the port of Haifa that they had carried out their mission under difficult circumstances.

The marines who boarded the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, where most of the violence took place, opened fire in self-defense, Israeli leaders said, after activists clubbed and stabbed them and snatched some of their weapons.

In an appeal echoed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council called for an impartial investigation of the deaths, and the Turkish prime minister demanded the immediate lifting of what he termed Israel's inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Speculation was high in Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government would appoint a judicial commission that would focus on the military's failure to gauge the strength of resistance on board the Mavi Marmara.

Another attempt to bust the blockade loomed on the horizon: The MV Rachel Corrie, a converted merchant ship bought by pro-Palestinian activists and named after an American woman killed in the Gaza Strip in 2003, set off on Monday from Malta.

It is carrying 15 activists, including a northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate, and expects to be at the point of Monday's interception between Friday evening and Saturday morning, crew member Derek Graham told Irish state broadcaster RTE.

Asked how Israel planned to deal with any new attempt to steam into Gaza, Tzachi Hanegbi, head of parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said: We cannot let them blur the red line Israel has set. Letting them in to help Hamas is not an option.


Egypt, which has kept its own Gaza border largely closed since Hamas, an offshoot of the opposition Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, seized the territory in 2007, reopened the frontier crossing on Tuesday.

The move was widely seen as an attempt to deflect criticism of its blockade, and hundreds of Palestinians flocked to the frontier terminal at Rafah on Wednesday. It is the only Gaza crossing not controlled by Israel.

In Turkey, a visibly angry Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told parliamentary deputies on Tuesday: Israel's behavior should definitely, definitely be punished.

Israel said four of the nine dead were Turkish nationals. It has not publicly identified any of those killed by name.

Erdogan's Islamist views and overtures to Iran and Israeli enemies are blamed by many in Israel for souring ties between the Jewish state and Turkey, once its closest Muslim ally.

Israeli media reported that families of Israeli diplomats stationed in Turkey were being flown home due to security concerns. A Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for careful, thoughtful responses from all concerned to Israel's interception of the flotilla.

We support an Israeli investigation that meets those criteria. We are open to different ways of ensuring a credible investigation including international participation, Clinton said, without elaborating.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States would push for an international role in the probe.

Israel says its blockade of the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, is meant to prevent arms and supplies that could be used to build military infrastructure from reaching the enclave's Hamas rulers.

It transfers humanitarian aid, basic goods and fuel into the Gaza Strip daily, but blacklists cement the United Nations and international aid groups say is needed urgently to rebuild homes destroyed in a three-week Gaza war that Israel launched in 2008 with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket attacks.

In Stockholm, well-known Swedish author Henning Mankell, one of 11 Swedes who participated in the flotilla, said after his return home that it was time to introduce sanctions against Israel.

We've tried many other things but the Israelis refuse to listen, he told the Expressen newspaper. I think we should use our experience from South Africa. We know the sanctions had a great effect there. It took a long time but it worked.  (Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Rafah, Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Dublin and Mia Shanley in Stockholm, Editing by Noah Barkin)






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