Wednesday 24 January 2018

Activists face deportation as Gaza ship intercepted

Luke Byrne

FOURTEEN Irish activists face being deported from Israel today after spending the night in a local jail.

The group of pro-Palestinian activists were last night preparing to spend the night in Israel's Givon prison after the interception of their Gaza-bound ship by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

The ships set off from the port of Fethiye in south-west Turkey on Wednesday morning for the 50-hour trip to Gaza.

They were travelling at a speed of around 10.5 knots.

Former Fianna Fail TD Chris Andrews and ex-Ireland international rugby player Trevor Hogan were among the Irish citizens detained out of a group of 27 activists.

A spokesperson for the campaign said that they had received a text message from Trevor Hogan late last night.

It read: "Kidnapped, being held against our will, boat nearly destroyed by Israeli army in international waters, need Government to press for release."

The 'MV Saoirse', along with Canadian ship the 'Tahrir', was intercepted by the Israeli navy just before 1pm Irish time as they tried to break a maritime blockade of Gaza.

Irish embassy officials from Tel Aviv were last night on the way to provide consular assistance.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said he did not accept Israel's right to apprehend anyone in international waters seeking to sail to Gaza in order to peacefully protest the blockade or deliver humanitarian aid.

He was relieved that there had been no violence, but he could not recommend anyone sailing to Gaza "given the likelihood that it could pose a clear risk to the safety and welfare of those doing so, and in light of Israel's clear insistence that they will enforce their blockade."

Following a night in the cells, it is expected the passengers will face short hearings today and deportation from Israel.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed contact had been made with Israeli authorities and that none of the activists were injured.

Mark Hogan, Trevor's brother, said he was concerned for his brother "insofar as you don't know what the Israelis are capable of".

Contact was lost with the ships at 11.12am Irish time yesterday. Israel's military chief ordered the navy to intercept two boats. Lt Gen Benny Gantz issued instructions after "all attempts to contact" activists aboard the vessels had failed, Israel's military said.

The IDF yesterday released a video of the warning given to the ships. "The Gaza area and coastal region are closed to maritime traffic as part of a blockade imposed for security purposes," an unidentified officer said.

Around 70 people demonstrated on Dublin's O'Connell Street against the Israeli action last night.

Irish Independent

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