Israel expels activists as fresh row looms

June 2, 2010 12:00 am

, JERUSALEM, Jun 2 – Hundreds of activists detained during a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla were kicked out of Israel on Wednesday as a new standoff with a pro-Palestinian aid ship loomed.

With nine bodies lying in the mortuary, none of whom have been officially identified, Israel\’s political leadership was locked in talks over how to handle the arrival of another foreign aid ship, due early next week.

And as the diplomatic fallout intensified over the bloody commando raid, which reportedly killed four Turks, Ankara issued an ultimatum that it would rethink its ties with Israel if all of its nationals were not released by Wednesday evening.

Monday\’s bloody showdown may have hurt Israel\’s international standing but it appears to have done little to deter activists bent on running the Gaza blockade. Another ship of Irish and Malaysian activists is heading toward Gaza and another potentially explosive standoff.

The Rachel Corrie, which is carrying building supplies, is in the Mediterranean, and organisers say it will be several days before it arrives in Gaza.

It is reported to be carrying 15 people, including a Nobel Prize winner from Ireland and a Malaysian MP.

There were some 380 Turks on board the six-boat flotilla when it was raided by Israeli naval forces in international waters in a pre-dawn operation that quickly deteriorated into bloodshed and chaos.

A diplomatic source in Ankara said four Turks were killed and around 20 injured, with the remainder held in an Israel jail until Wednesday morning, when at least 200 of them were bused to the airport and sent home to Turkey.

Israel rushed to quickly repatriate all the activists on Wednesday in a move which appeared to be driven by pressure from Turkey\’s top diplomat, who on Tuesday relayed a warning via the United States.

"I expressed our absolute determination on the following issue: if our citizens are not released in 24 hours, by tonight in other words, we will review our ties with Israel entirely," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara on Wednesday.

"No one has the right to prosecute people kidnapped in international waters," he said.

Turkey has already recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and scrapped plans for joint military exercises, plunging already poisoned bilateral ties into deep crisis.

By mid-afternoon, Israel said it had sent home all the 682 people who had tried to bust the blockade with an aid-laden flotilla before special operations forces stormed the six ships in international waters off Israel.

Israel\’s inner security cabinet voted at a late night session on Tuesday to have them all out within 48 hours.

As Israel struggled with the diplomatic fallout from the raid, Ireland renewed an "urgent" appeal to the Rachel Corrie to reach Gaza.

"I again repeat my urgent call to the Israeli government to allow safe passage of the Irish-owned vessel, the MV Rachel Corrie, which is still sailing towards Gaza to deliver its consignment of humanitarian aid," said Foreign Minister Micheal Martin.

"It is imperative that there should be no further confrontation or bloodshed arising from what has been all along a purely humanitarian mission by those involved in the Gaza flotilla," he said.

Monday\’s operation prompted global outrage, and on Wednesday Nicaragua became the first country to suspend diplomatic relations with Israel over the incident.

Dozens of countries, as well as the United Nations, the European Union and the United States have all pressed for an independent inquiry into the incident.

And Britain, France, Russia and China – four of the five veto-wielding Security Council members – have also urged Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday defended the blockade and said it would remain in place in order to prevent Gaza\’s Hamas rulers from bolstering their arsenal.

"Opening a sea route into Gaza would constitute a great danger to the security of our citizens," he told the closed-door security cabinet meeting, according to a statement from his office. "Therefore, we persist with a naval blockade."


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