Saturday, February 7, 2009

Passengers of Aid Freighter Seized by Israel Off Gaza's Coast Earlier This Week Tell of Their Ordeal

The Daily Star, Beirut, February 6, 2009 - A group of activists arrested after the Israeli navy seized an aid ship bound for the devastated Gaza Strip were expelled from Israel on Friday, a day after being detained by the military. Fifteen of the Togolese-flagged Tali's crew members were deported back to Lebanon and Syria early on Friday, and three others were preparing to fly to London.

Nine Lebanese and a Palestinian were handed over at the border with Israel to the UN peacekeeping force responsible for monitoring stability in southern Lebanon.

The freed crew told how they were beaten and handcuffed after Israeli gunboats fired on the ship and sailors stormed the vessel, arresting everyone on board. The boat was then towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod where it was searched.

Salam Khodr, an Al-Jazeera journalist who was on board the vessel, said the Israelis had taken the crew's possessions when they were arrested. "The Israeli army confiscated all our videotapes; we were separated from each other, we were blindfolded and handcuffed. They beat some of us; I was beaten," she said.

"The soldiers kicked Dr Hani Suleiman, in the chest and back; we asked for a physician to check Dr Suleiman who suffered short breath; one Israeli female soldier answered: 'You should have thought about his health condition before you attempted to come and break the siege of Gaza'," Khodr said.

An Israeli military spokes-man admitted that no arms had been had been found on the ship, which turned out to be laden with medicine, food, and humanitarian supplies for the population of the war ravaged enclave....

The interception of the Tali marks the first time Israel has captured an aid ship and its crew, and will be seen as a clear signal that it will not tolerate further attempts to circumvent the blockade of Gaza.....

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