Thursday, February 5, 2009

Israel expels Gaza aid ship crew

ALJAZEERA.NET
Friday, February 06, 2009

Israel has expelled 10 activists and journalists after detaining them for hours and seizing their cargo ship that was trying to deliver aid to Gaza.

Al Jazeera's Salam Khoder, who was among the group, said she and some of the others on board were beaten by Israeli forces before being taken to a police station and interrogated.

Minutes after being escorted across the Israeli border to southern Lebanon on Friday, Khoder reported on her capture.

"At about 11pm last night... the Israeli ship intercepted the ship, fired at the ship and more than 30 soldiers came on to the boat and started beating the passengers," she said.

"They blinded our eyes, bounded our hands, kept us in uncomfortable conditions for one hour ... they also told us not to communicate with each other in Arabic."

She added that the whereabouts of some of the 18 people who were on board the ship was unknown.

The Al-Ikhwa was carrying 60 tonnes of medical supplies, food, books and toys to Gaza, where a more than year-long Israeli blockade along with its devastating offensive last month have left residents struggling to get basic necessities.

Israeli denial

Israel denied using violence in the operation and said it had warned the ship on Wednesday night against entering Gaza's coastal waters.

"During today's [Thursday] morning hours, the cargo ship changed its bearing, and began heading towards the Gaza Strip ... disregarding all warnings made," the Israeli military said.

The Al-Ikhwa, which originally set sail from Cyprus, left the Lebanese port city of Tripoli on Tuesday.

Maan Bashour, an aid co-ordinator for the group End the Blockade of Gaza, told Al Jazeera that the ship "was searched in Cyprus and in Lebanon".

"And we were very eager to let it be searched by Lebanese and Cypriot authorities in order that there be no reason for the Israelis to prevent it from going to Gaza."

Foud Siniora, Lebanon's prime minister, condemned the attack on Al-Ikhwa, emphasising that it was on a humanitarian mission to Gaza.

"It is no surprise for Israel to perpetrate such an action as it has been accustomed to ignoring all international resolutions and values," he said in Beirut.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/02/20092611429906394.html