Israel Deports Aid Activists

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Al-Jazeera - English

Israel Deports Aid Activists

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Israel began releasing aid activists that were captured and detained after the convoy raid. (Photo: AFP)

The Israeli government has deported to Jordan
more than 100 activists seized from the Gaza aid flotilla, and has
promised to release the rest of the detainees within 48 hours.

Those freed were mostly from Arab countries and were driven by buses
across the Allenby Bridge into Jordan on Wednesday.

A spokesman for Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli
prime minister, said earlier on Tuesday that all of the activists "would
be deported immediately".

There are believed to have been a total of 682 people from 35
countries on the flotilla.  

Nine dead

Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from the Allenby Bridge,
said the deported passengers were from a dozen countries, most without
diplomatic relations with Israel.

Several Al Jazeera employees were among the group.

Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from Beersheva
in southern Israel, later said 500 more detainees had left the Ela
Prison and would be deported. 

Tadros said only about 30
activists were still in the prison.

She said that while nine people have been confirmed killed, no
information had been made public about their identities.

The activists were killed when Israeli troops, using helicopters and
dinghies, stormed the Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel of the
six-ship convoy dubbed the Freedom Flotilla, on Monday.

The military said it opened fire in self defence when it encountered
resistance from activists wielding metal rods and chairs, and released
pictures which appeared to show a handful of soldiers being beaten and
clubbed by dozens of activists.

Guns pointed

But activists' accounts of what happened disputed the Israeli claim.

Huseyin Tokalak, the captain of one of the seized ships who was freed
on Tuesday, told a news conference in Istanbul that an Israeli navy
ship threatened to sink his vessel before troops boarded and trained
their guns on him and his crew.

"They pointed two guns to the head of each of us," Tokalak said.

Others said that the soldiers had opened fire even after passengers
had raised the white flag.

Al Jazeera's Mohamed Vall, who was on board the Mavi Marmara
and was released into Jordan on Wednesday morning, said the size of the
Israeli attack surprised the ship's passengers.

"The Israeli assault took those of us on the ship by complete
surprise," Vall said.

"We saw about 30 war vessels surrounding this ship, and helicopters
attacking with very luminous bombs.

"More troops came and immediately opened fire, and killed people on
the ship without any distinction."

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has called for "a prompt,
impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to
international standards" into the Israeli raid.

It also condemned "those acts which resulted in the loss of ...
civilians and many wounded".

This drew a sharp response from Israel, which said its foreign
minister had complained in a telephone call to Ban Ki-moon, the UN
secretary-general, that it was condemned unfairly for "defensive
actions".

Turkish warning

Turkey has warned
it will cut off diplomatic ties with Israel if its citizens killed and
injured in the Gaza flotilla raid are not returned by Wednesday night.

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, also called for an
international commission into the raid on the convoy which left four
Turks dead.

"We have clearly stated that we would review our ties with Israel if
all Turks not released by the end of the day," said Davutoglu.

Turkey has sent three planes to retrieve its nationals from Israel.

There
were signs, however, that the long-term relationship Israel has had
with Ankara would endure.

Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, spoke to Vecdi Gonul, his
Turkish counterpart, on Tuesday, defence officials said on condition of
anonymity.

The officials said the two men agreed the raid would
not affect weapons deals, among them a planned delivery to Turkey of
$183m in Israeli drones this summer.

Another aid ship

Amid the international condemnation, Egypt said it was opening the
Rafah border it shares with Gaza, to allow in humanitarian aid after a
request from the governing Hamas Palestinian faction.

Egypt, in co-ordination with Israel, has rarely opened the border
since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from forces loyal to Mahmoud
Abbas, the Palestinian president.

Abbas meanwhile criticised Israel's actions as being "stupid,
terrorist and ugly".

Speaking in Bethlehem, Abbas said that "the way to seek peace has to
start by Israel lifting the siege on Gaza, freezing all settlements
without preconditions, and the recognition of international references".

But Israel remains defiant and said that it was ready to intercept
another aid ship, the Rachel Corrie, that organisers of the
Freedom Flotilla planned to send to the Gaza Strip next week.

"The opening of a sea route to Gaza would pose a tremendous risk to
the security of our citizens. Therefore we continue a policy of a naval
blockade," Netanyahu told his ministers.

Israel's security cabinet said in a statement that it "regrets the
fact there were deaths in the incident, but lays full responsibility on
those who took violent action that tangibly endangered the lives of
Israeli soldiers".

It added: "Israel will continue to defend its citizens against the
Hamas terror base."

No US condemnation

The bloodshed on Monday also put Israel's tense ties with the US
under further strain and placed under scrutiny the relationship between
the allies.

Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from Istanbul, said Erdogan,
in his speech, "mentioned the unmentionable, saying that Israel acts
because it has powerful friends".

The US has, thus far, refused to condemn the Israeli raid, with
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, telling reporters in
Washington DC that "the situation from our perspective is very difficult
and requires careful, thoughtful responses from all concerned".

Clinton called on the Israeli government to ease the blockade of
Gaza, saying that the "situation in Gaza is unsustainable and
unacceptable".

"Israel's legitimate security needs must be met just as the
Palestinian's legitimate needs for sustained humanitarian assistance and
regular access to reconstruction materials must also be assured," she
said.

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