Northern Ireland

Irish aid ship expects Israelis to board vessel

Image caption Mairead Maguire is one of five Irish people onboard the MV Rachel Corrie

An Irish woman onboard a ship carrying aid to Gaza has said the crew expects Israeli forces to board the vessel.

Jenny Graham is travelling on the Irish ship MV Rachel Corrie which is about two days from Gaza.

Israel deported 124 foreign activists detained after Monday's raid on an aid flotilla in which nine people were killed.

They died after armed Israeli commandos boarded the largest of the six ships.

Israel claimed its soldiers were shot at; the activists said Israeli troops came on board shooting.

Despite the deaths, the boat, the Rachel Corrie, which left Dundalk about three weeks ago, is still pressing ahead to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Crew member, Jenny Graham said those onboard sat down regularly and spoke about what they will do and what may happen.

"We have made sure that everybody in the world knows that it's a fact that all of us onboard are unarmed.

"We're all either activists or journalists or crew members on the cargo ship.

"There is nothing untoward onboard this ship. We will not cause any confrontation on board this ship.

"All we have ever asked for, is safe passage into Gaza."

Mairead Corrigan Maguire - a Nobel peace prizewinner - is also onboard.

Civil rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC said he is concerned, both for her safety and the safety of all of those on board the Irish ship.

Mr Mansfield also criticised the governments of all those on board the flotilla for being slow to speak out.

"The Irish government are right to be saying something," he said.

"The blockade of Gaza, as Hilary Clinton has said, is unsustainable. It is another feature of the way in which Israel is slowly becoming a rogue state."

Taoiseach Brian Cowen earlier warned of "serious consequences" if any of the Irish citizens detained in Israel were harmed, and called for their immediate and unconditional release.

At least nine civilian activists were killed after armed forces boarded the largest vessel carrying aid to the Gaza Strip.

The activists were attempting to defy a blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamist movement Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007.

Image caption TV footage appeared to show injuries on board the ship

Ms Maguire told BBC Radio Ulster on Tuesday: "I hope that we will be able to get to Gaza and bring in humanitatian aid.

"The ports have been closed for over 40 years. It's not so much that we get in, it is that the people of Gaza cannot get out.

"You have 1.5m people, it's like the population of Northern Ireland totally cut off from the world by this inhumane, illegal siege of Gaza."

Demonstrations against the Israeli actions were held in Belfast and Londonderry on Monday.

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin met Israeli ambassador Dr Zion Evrony on Monday after summoning him to explain what happened.

Dr Evrony said he regretted the loss of life and that Israel had hoped the incident would end peacefully.

He said he was neither ashamed nor embarrassed by what happened.

International waters

The incident happened about 40 miles (64 km) out to sea, in international waters.

The six-ship flotilla, carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid, left the coast of Cyprus on Sunday and had been due to arrive in Gaza on Monday.

Organisers of the flotilla said at least 30 people were wounded in the incident. Israel says 10 of its soldiers were injured, one seriously.

Israel had repeatedly said it would stop the boats, calling the campaign a "provocation intended to delegitimise Israel".

Israel says it allows about 15,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid into Gaza every week.

But the United Nations has said this is less than a quarter of what is needed.

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