JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel on Wednesday began deporting the bulk of
nearly 700 international activists detained during its deadly raid
on an aid flotilla bound for Palestinians in the blockaded,
Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The raid that ended with Israeli soldiers killing nine activists
has strained diplomatic ties, sending Israeli relations with
Turkey, in particular, to a new low. At least four of the nine
killed were Turkish and the ship Israel attacked was Turkish.
Israel ordered families of its diplomats out of that country a day
after Turkey branded the raid a "massacre."
Egypt eased its blockade of Gaza after the raid and at the newly
opened crossing in the border town of Rafah, about 300 Palestinians
entered through Gaza's main gateway to the outside world. A smaller
number entered Gaza from Egypt and humanitarian aid also came in
including blankets, tents and 13 power generators donated by Russia
Magdi al-Titer, a 31-year-old Palestinian among those crossing
into Egypt, said he lost his right leg during Israel's brief war
with Gaza that ended in January 2009.
"I have come with a medical report to get fitted with an
artificial leg in Egypt," he said.
Israel has come under harsh international condemnation after
naval commandos stormed the flotilla in international waters on
Monday, setting off the deadly clashes. Israel says its soldiers
opened fire only after being attacked by angry activists, who said
they were trying to breach the blockade of Gaza to bring in aid.
Gaza has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since 2007.
Egypt's opening of the border was believed to be temporary,
although the government did not say how long it would last.
A corrections official said Israel is aiming to deport all the
foreign activists by the end of the day. But there is a possibility
some could be held in custody on suspicion of violence against
Some 400 activists, most of them Turkish citizens, were bused to
Israel's international airport for flights home by midday
Corrections department spokesman Yaron Zamir said the Turkish
activists would board planes Turkey had sent to pick them up.
Greece also had an aircraft on standby there to pick up its
An additional 124 activists from a dozen Muslim nations without
diplomatic relations with Israel were deported to Jordan before
sunrise. About 100 foreigners remained in a prison in southern
Israel by midday, Zamir said.
Several of the activists deported to Jordan told The Associated
Press that they were deprived of food, water, sleep and access to
toilets in Israeli detention.
"The Israelis roughed up and humiliated all of us - women, men
and children," said Kuwaiti lawmaker Walid al-Tabtabai, who was on
board one of the ships with other activists from Muslim countries.
"They were brutal and arrogant, but our message reached every
corner of the world that the blockade on Gaza is unfair and should
be lifted immediately," he added. The lawmaker claimed there "was
not a single weapon with the passengers aboard all the ships."
Israel claimed some of the passengers attacked commandos with
knives, iron rods, sticks and with two pistols wrested from
Video released by the Israeli military showed commandos attacked
by angry activists with metal rods and firebombs during the raid.
One soldier was thrown off one deck onto another below, and Israeli
authorities said its troops were attacked by knives, clubs and live
fire from the two pistols wrested from soldiers.
Israeli defense officials have also said, without providing
proof, that night vision goggles, gas masks, flak jackets and
thousands of dollars were found on the ship, suggesting the
possibility that some mercenaries were on board.
Israeli media reported Wednesday that the foreign ministry
ordered the families of its diplomats in Turkey to leave that
country because of the uproar there over the raid. The diplomatic
mission itself would remain in Turkey, said Israel Radio and other
stations and newspapers. The ministry would neither confirm nor
deny the reports.
The fallout also expanded far from the region's borders. Foreign
Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Nicaragua is suspending -
though not severing - diplomatic ties with Israel over the raid.
While many Israelis were critical of the way the raid was
executed, the overwhelming reaction backed the soldiers' response
and supported the Gaza blockade. Israelis have little empathy for
the plight of Palestinians in Gaza because militants used the
territory to send thousands of rockets and mortars crashing into
Israel for years.
The flotilla was meant to draw attention to the Israeli and
Egyptian blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas militants violently
seized power in June 2007. Israel says the blockade is needed to
prevent Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets into the Jewish
state, from building up its arsenal. Critics say the closure has
failed to hurt Hamas but has damaged Gaza's already weak economy.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton supported a U.N.
Security Council statement that condemned the "acts" that cost
the lives of the pro-Palestinian activists off the Gaza coast. But
U.S. officials did not say whether they blamed Israel or the
activists for the bloodshed.
Israel has promised to halt a new attempt by pro-Palestinian
groups to sail two more ships to Gaza's shores within the next few
Despite the widespread outcry over the violent sea raid, the
Palestinians were resuming indirect peace talks with Israel later
Wednesday, through U.S. envoy George Mitchell. Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas was to meet Mitchell at his headquarters in
the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Associated Press Writers Dale Gavlak at Allenby Bridge, Jordan,
and Karin Laub in Jerusalem contributed to this report.