By MICHAEL JANSEN and MARY FITZGERALD
EVEN IRISH citizens were last night being detained in Israel after the Gaza-bound aid flotilla they were sailing in was raided by armed and masked Israeli commandos in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Up to 16 passengers died in the operation, the majority Turkish nationals on board the Istanbul cruise ship, Mavi Marmara . Another 50 were injured on this and another ship. The incident has prompted international outrage and calls for a full investigation.
At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: “This is tantamount to banditry and piracy. It is murder conducted by a state.”
Many of the remaining participants, including activists from several countries and a number of European parliamentarians, were due to be processed in the port city of Ashdod before being deported to their home countries by air.
Among those detained are seven Irish passport holders including members of the Free Gaza Movement’s Irish affiliate. The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign said its member, Shane Dillon, was being deported, while Dr Fintan Lane and Fiachra Ó Luain were contesting their deportation and will be brought to court within 72 hours. Also detained in Israel last night were two naturalised Irish citizens originally from Libya and now resident in Ireland; an Australian journalist travelling on an Irish passport; and a Polish-Irish activist.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has criticised Israel for denying Ireland’s Ambassador consular access to those in Ashdod.
Israeli commandos stormed the flotilla, landing on the decks of the ships from helicopters at about 3.30am while the ships were in international waters 85 nautical miles from the Gaza coast and well outside the exclusion zone imposed by Israel.
Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich, speaking to media at Ashdod, said the troops had been attacked with rods and knives and two pistols had been found on the Turkish ship. Ankara has denied that there were weapons on board and it has recalled its ambassador to Israel.
The flotilla consisted of three cargo ships loaded with 10,000 tonnes of aid, mainly construction material, medicines, paper for school books, wheelchairs and chocolate, which Israel does not allow into Gaza.
Mr Martin condemned Israel’s “unacceptable and disproportionate” use of force and he accused Israel of “essentially kidnapping” the Irish citizens aboard the ships. Mr Martin was speaking after he summoned Israeli ambassador Zion Evrony to a meeting at Iveagh House late yesterday afternoon. He called for the unconditional release of Irish citizens currently detained in Ashdod.
“These people did not enter Israel illegally. They were essentially kidnapped from international waters, taken into Israel, and asked to sign documents confirming that they entered illegally. That is unacceptable,” Mr Martin said.
The incident prompted widespread protests yesterday.