Israel expels boat activists as calls for probe mount

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JERUSALEM: All activists and crew on board the Rachel Corrie aid ship which tried to run the Israeli siege of Gaza would be expelled Sunday, an official said, as calls grew for an end to the crippling blockade.

"Everyone on board the boat will be expelled on Sunday after they signed a waiver renouncing their right to appeal to an Israeli judge," Israeli immigration official Sabine Haddad told AFP.

She said six Malaysian nationals and a Cuban had travelled to the Allenby Bridge crossing into Jordan, while the remaining activists, among would fly out of Ben Gurion international airport later in the afternoon and overnight.

Among the remaining 11 were Irish nationals, including Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, six Filipinos and the ship’s Scottish captain.

Immigration officials earlier said the process had been delayed after the Irish contingent had initially refused to sign the waiver.

Israeli forces intercepted and seized control of the Rachel Corrie on Saturday as it tried to reach the Gaza Strip, in a peaceful operation which had a radically different outcome from an earlier raid on an aid flotilla that left nine dead.

Monday’s bloody outcome has put huge pressure on Israel to rethink its blockade on Gaza.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday insisted the Jewish state would never allow a situation in which regional forces would be able to send arms to Gaza’s Islamist rulers.

"We shall not allow the establishment of an Iranian port in Gaza and the free flow of weapons to Hamas," he told the weekly cabinet meeting.

Asked about the possibility of easing the blockade to allow for the inspection of cargos at sea, Netanyahu was dismissive.

"We could consider it, but I don’t think it’s a good idea," he said. However, another Israeli government official told AFP the cabinet had not completely dismissed the idea of inspecting shipments at sea before letting them enter Gaza.

"There are many options which need to be discussed," he said, without elaborating.

Monday’s disastrous raid should be used as an opportunity to press Israel to change its policy on Gaza, a senior UN official said on Sunday.

"We very much want to see what’s happened — or use what’s happened, tragic as it is —as an opportunity to try to … persuade Israel to change policy," said John Holmes, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

Speaking to AFP in Sydney, Holmes said the blockade was "unacceptable, counterproductive, (and) very damaging for the people of Gaza."

"It’s not a sensible policy," Holmes told AFP in Sydney. "It’s not helping to combat extremism."

Britain, too, joined a growing chorus of calls for Israel to end the blockade.

"The humanitarian situation in Gaza is both unacceptable and unsustainable," International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said in London as Britain said it would give £19 million ($27 million dollars, €23 million) to refugees there.

Saturday’s operation came at a sensitive time, with Israel diplomatically isolated after Monday’s deadly raid.

The bloody end to that humanitarian mission unleashed fury, with several thousand people protesting across Europe on Saturday, including an estimated 10,000 in Istanbul.
Turkish prosecutors are reportedly examining the possibility of prosecuting Israeli leaders over the raid.

Angry protesters chanting anti-Israeli slogans and waving Palestinian and Turkish flags also took to the streets of Dublin, Edinburgh, London and Paris as well as other French cities on Saturday.

In Lebanon, two pro-Palestinian groups launched a fund-raising campaign to buy a ship which they hoped to sail to Gaza next week.



Demonstrators take part during an anti-Israel protest in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, June 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)


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