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Israel deports activists detained from aid flotilla

Israel began deporting Tuesday pro-Palestinian activists detained in a naval commando raid on a six ship flotilla bearing aid to the Gaza Strip, after they identified themselves to Israeli authorities.

world Updated: Jun 01, 2010 22:08 IST

Israel began deporting Tuesday pro-Palestinian activists detained in a naval commando raid on a six ship flotilla bearing aid to the Gaza Strip, after they identified themselves to Israeli authorities.

By late afternoon about 50 activists had been taken to Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, a foreign ministry spokesman said, and another 610 who refused to identify themselves, were being held in a prison in southern Israel.

Israeli Internal Security Minister Yizhak Aharonovich warned that Israel would "prosecute to the full extent of the law anyone who lifted a hand against Israeli soldiers".

He said law enforcement authorities had already begun taking testimony and some of those who allegedly used violence had already been identified.

The identities and nationalities of the nine activists killed when Israeli soldiers battled it out with activists on board the largest ship in the flotilla early Monday, remained undisclosed.

A spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry said identifying the dead was difficult, since the Israelis were receiving no cooperation from activists still alive. Lack of identification made telling the fatalities' nationalities difficult, he said.

Turkish nationals were reported to make up most, if not all, the fatalities. The Turkish embassy did not reply to a query on this by DPA.

The Israeli assault on the flotilla unleashed a wave of condemnation against Israel, but Tuesday Israeli leaders remained unapologetic and defiant.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said a a UN Security Council resolution condemning the raid was "unacceptable and did not advance peace and stability in the Middle East".

He told UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon in a telephone conversation that the "hypocrisy and double standards of the international community concerning Israel" should be "regretted".

Lieberman told Moon that while the international community remained silent during the past month when "500 people were killed in various incidents in Thailand, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and India," Israel "was condemned for taking a clear defensive action".

He said the Israeli troops who battled the activists on board the ship had the "basic right" to defend themselves against a group wielding iron bars, clubs and knives.

Audrey Bomse, spokeswoman for the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Organisation, said she regretted the violence, and accused Israel of initiating it.

She accused Israel of piracy for taking over the ships in international waters and blamed it for causing the panic and mayhem by launching the assault under the cover of darkness.

"This should have been a non-violent resistance," she said. "They should have done it in daylight. You come jumping out of helicopters in the middle of the night, you're asking for confusion".

She told DPA Tuesday morning that she had not yet viewed the Israeli military footage which showed activists on board the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara physically attack with iron rods and chairs the Israeli naval commandos descending on the deck from helicopters.

The footage also shows activists pushing an Israeli soldier, who falls metres from the high level to the low level of the deck, and two black exploding dots which the military alleges were a Molotov cocktail and a grenade thrown by activists at the commandos.

A soldier with deep stab wounds to the chest is also seen, and the commandos can be heard in Hebrew on their radios nervously requesting permission to use live ammunition because activists are allegedly opening fire at them. The Israeli commandos have charged they felt they were under a "lynch" attack and their lives endangered.

Bomse denied the activists had guns, but the army said the activists had snatched the two pistols from the soldiers.

She said the Free Gaza movement have yet to decide whether two more ships headed for Gaza will continue their journey.

The two ships are Ireland's Rachel Corrie, with about 10 passengers on board, including Denis Halliday, the Irish former UN Human Rights Coordinator in Iraq, and the US-flagged Challenger, which is undergoing repairs in Nicosia.

"We have not made a final decision yet, but Rachel Corrie is coming. She left Malta on her way to Gaza the night before last and she should be coming near Crete today," Bomse said, adding she was proceeding slowly.

"All of us want to go as an answer that this has not intimidated us, the Israeli criminal actions, but it has made us more determined than ever," Bomse vowed.

First Published: Jun 01, 2010 22:06 IST