Israel moves to swiftly expel Rachel Corrie activists
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 would leave Israel through the Allenby crossing into Jordan, while the remaining 11 people would fly out of Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv.
Immigration officials earlier said the process had been delayed after the five Irish nationals, including Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, 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.
Israel said its forces boarded the Rachel Corrie -- named after a US activist killed in 2003 as she tried to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from razing a Palestinian home -- "with the agreement" of those on board.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the operation.
"We saw today the difference between a ship of peace activists, with whom we don't agree but respect their right to a different opinion from ours, and between a ship of hate organised by violent Turkish terror extremists," he said.
But the takeover prompted a furious response from the Dublin-based Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
"For the second time in less then a week, Israeli forces stormed and hijacked an unarmed aid ship, kidnapping its passengers and forcing the ship toward Ashdod port," it said.
Saturday's outcome stood in stark contrast to a botched navy operation against a six-ship flotilla on Monday, which ended in the deaths of nine activists -- eight Turks and a US-Turkish citizen.
The disastrous raid should be used as an opportunity to press Israel to change its policy on Gaza, a senior UN official told AFP in Sydney 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.
Holmes said the blockade was "unacceptable, counterproductive, (and) very damaging for the people of Gaza."
"It's not a sensible policy," he added. "It's not helping to combat extremism."
Britain, too, joined a growing chorus of calls for Israel to end the blockade, which was imposed in 2006 after Gaza-based Hamas militants kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.
"The humanitarian situation in Gaza is both unacceptable and unsustainable," International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said in London as Britain announced it would give 19 million pounds (27 million dollars, 23 million euros) to refugees there.
"I call on the government of Israel to open the crossings to help end this humanitarian crisis," Mitchell said.
The Rachel Corrie was carrying around 1,000 tonnes of aid and supplies, half of which was reportedly cement which is barred by Israel which fears it could be used by the Islamist group Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip to build fortifications.
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.
© 2010 AFP