Middle East

Israel to deport five Irish aboard Rachel Corrie

The Rachel Corrie (file picture)
Image caption The ship was boarded after refusing to change course, Israel says

Five Irish nationals are among a group of activists being deported from Israel after trying to bring aid to Gaza in defiance of Israel's blockade.

The five Irish people are due to be flown from Tel Aviv on Sunday after waiving their right to appeal. They are expected to arrive in Dublin on Monday.

Six Malaysians and a Cuban have already left Israel through the West Bank into Jordan.

The deportees include the Nobel peace laureate, Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

'Good health'

The former UN assistant secretary-general Denis Halliday was also on board the Rachel Corrie when it was seized on Saturday.

One of the five Irish detainees has been in touch with the Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin to assure him that all of those who were onboard are in good health.

On Monday, Israeli forces killed nine activists on a Turkish ship who were also attempting to break the blockade.

One of the Malaysians deported to Jordan, Shamsul Akmar, said there had been no resistance when the Israelis boarded the Rachie Corrie.

"We sat down, we waited in the middle of the ship, and when they boarded they just moved around," he said.

"They were wearing balaclavas and all that stuff. They were armed to the teeth, and they said sit down so we sat down, we kept quiet."

The Israeli interventions have sparked anger, with hundreds of people taking part in protests in Belfast and Dublin on Saturday.

The Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described the Israeli intervention as a "raid" and said it was a "completely unacceptable and unjustified use of force".

"The Rachel Corrie should have been allowed to proceed to Gaza without Israeli aggression," he said.

"This is an attack on an Irish flagged vessel and it demands a strong response by the Irish government."

Defiant activists

Meanwhile, the leader of Catholics in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, has called for an end to the blockade of Gaza, describing its citizens as "trapped".

He added that he "deeply regretted" the loss of life on board the Turkish ship on Sunday.

He added: "I pray for the families and loved ones of those who were killed and for all those hurt or injured. It is clear that it is now time to lift the blockade on Gaza."

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hailed the peaceful outcome of the latest operation.

He described those on board the Irish-owned Rachel Corrie as "peace activists", but labelled the other vessel - the Mavi Marmara - a "ship of hate organised by violent Turkish terror extremists".

The Cyprus-based Free Gaza Movement, which organised the attempts to break Israel's blockade on Gaza, vowed that further aid shipments would be sent.

The 1,200-tonne cargo ship was boarded about 16 nautical miles (30km) off the Israeli coast.

The ship was carrying hundreds of tonnes of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement.

Israel says it will check the shipment and transfer all of the aid it deems acceptable into the Gaza Strip.

Foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev told the BBC Israel had had an agreement with the Irish Republic for the vessel to go to the Israeli port of Ashdod to be checked - and from there the aid and the activists on board could have proceeded to Gaza.

Israel stepped up its blockade of Gaza in 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement took control of the territory, and says its policies will not change while Hamas remains in power.

Defending the Israeli blockade, Mr Regev said there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza - and accused Hamas of blocking the supply of aid into the territory.

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