Israel deports activists challenging Gaza blockade

image captionThe activists say they will not give up

Israel has deported seven activists who tried to sail an aid ship to Gaza in defiance of Israel's blockade.

They were among 11 campaigners and eight crew who signed deportation papers on Saturday, after troops boarded their ship the Rachel Corrie.

On Monday, Israeli forces killed nine activists in clashes as they tried to break the blockade.

Post-mortems in Turkey said 30 bullets had been found in their bodies - one activist had four in the head.

The examinations were carried out in Turkey because eight of those killed were Turkish, and the ninth had joint US-Turkish nationality.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Istanbul, says some of the details seem to contradict the Israeli assertion that their commandos used minimum lethal force during the violent confrontation with those on board the Turkish Mavi Marmara.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday the soldiers had been attacked by a group of people - separate from the peace activists - who had boarded the ship "in a way that allowed them to avoid a security check", intending "to initiate a violent confrontation with IDF soldiers".

Israel has faced an international outcry over the incident, which has also soured relations with Turkey.

Israeli officials say UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has telephoned Mr Netanyahu to propose setting up an international commission to investigate what went wrong.

It would include representatives from the US, Turkey and Israel, and could be headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer.

The Israeli cabinet is said to be considering the project.

Activists defiant

Mr Netanyahu has described those on board the Irish-owned Rachel Corrie as "peace activists", but labelled the other vessel - the Mavi Marmara - a "ship of hate organised by violent Turkish terror extremists".

The Cyprus-based Free Gaza Movement, which organised the attempts to break Israel's blockade, vowed that further aid shipments would be sent.

There were six Malaysian and five Irish campaigners aboard the MV Rachel Corrie, which was named after a US college student who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza in 2003.

They included Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire and the former head of UN humanitarian operations in Iraq Denis Halliday.

Israeli interior ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said most of the crew and campaigners would be flown out on Sunday; six Malaysians and a Cuban have left the country overland to Jordan.

Among those deported on Sunday was an injured Indonesian activist from the Mavi Marmara.

Other Indonesian activists gathered around the ambulance carrying their wounded colleague Surya Fahrizal shouting "God is great".

He smiled from his stretcher but did not say anything.

The 1,200-tonne cargo ship MV Rachel Corrie was boarded about 16 nautical miles (30km) off the coast.

The ship was carrying hundreds of tonnes of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement.

Israel says it will check the shipment and transfer all of the aid it deems acceptable into the Gaza Strip.

Foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev told the BBC Israel had had an agreement with the Irish Republic for the vessel to go to the Israeli port of Ashdod to be checked - and from there the aid and the activists on board could have proceeded to Gaza.

Israel stepped up its blockade of Gaza in 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement took control of the territory, and says its policies will not change while Hamas remains in power.

Defending the Israeli blockade, Mr Regev said there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza - and accused Hamas of blocking the supply of aid into the territory.

Hamas has so far refused to accept the aid from the Mavi Marmara until all the activists from the ship detained by Israel are released.

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.