Israel expels passengers of seized Lebanese freighter
Friday, February 06, 2009
JERUSALEM (AFP) – The passengers and crew of a Lebanese freighter seized by the Israeli navy as it sought to deliver aid to Gaza have been expelled, according to an army spokesman.
He said no arms were found on board the Togolese-flagged Tali which was towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod on Thursday after it was intercepted as it headed towards the Gaza Strip in defiance of an Israeli blockade.
Ten of those who were on board were sent to Lebanon, while former Greek Catholic archbishop of Jerusalem, Monsignor Hilarion Capucci, 84, was sent to Syria and others were to be flown to London, radio reported.
Israeli authorities said they immediately transferred to Gaza the blood plasma that was found aboard the vessel.
"We are still making an inventory of the supplies," said military spokesman Peter Lerner. "It doesn't seem to be a large amount," he added.
Another military spokesman said earlier that by entering Gazan waters, the crew "raised suspicion, as it could threaten security concerns, or furthermore, the boat could be used for smuggling banned equipment (weaponry, etc.) into or out of the Gaza Strip."
The Arab League and the Hamas rulers of Gaza called the seizure of the vessel "an act of piracy."
Yahya Mahmassani, the League's permanent observer to the United Nations, said he conveyed a strong protest to UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
Al-Jazeera television claimed Israeli troops who boarded the vessel beat some of those on board.
"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," said Al-Jazeera reporter Salam Khader.
"The soldiers kicked Dr. Hani Suleiman (the 60-year-old coordinator of the campaign), 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 imposed on Gaza Strip'," Khader said.
Following the devastating 22-day military offensive that ended on January 18, humanitarian agencies have stepped up calls for a lifting of the blockade Israel imposed on Gaza after Hamas seized power in the Palestinian enclave 18 months ago.