Israel Deports Activists From Gaza-Bound Flotilla

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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.

Egypt eased its blockade of Gaza after the raid and at the newly opened crossing in the 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 and Oman.

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 Israeli troops.

Some 400 activists, most of them Turkish citizens, were bused to Israel's international airport for flights home by midday Wednesday.

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 activists.

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 soldiers.

This program aired on June 2, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.