Israel deports Gaza aid ship crew

IDF orders transfer to Strip of blood donations found on vessel that tried to break sea blockade.

Navy gunships 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Navy gunships 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The 18 crew members from a Lebanese cargo ship commandeered by the navy on Thursday after the vessel tried to break the Gaza sea blockade were deported on Friday morning. Three of them - two Indian nationals and one Briton - were taken to Ben-Gurion Airport, while the remainder of the crew, from Lebanon and Syria, were transferred to their countries via the Kuneitra border terminal. On Thursday night, the IDF coordinator of military activities in the Palestinian territories ordered the transfer to Gaza of some 1,000 units of donated blood that was carried on the ship to ease the humanitarian situation in the Strip. The blood was transferred via the Erez border crossing. IDF spokesman Peter Lerner said that the rest of the supplies on board were being examined and would also be sent to Gaza. The Togo-flagged Tali left Lebanon on Tuesday, carrying some 60 tons of water, food and medicine, as well as 18 people, including Syrian and Lebanese nationals. On Wednesday, the Israel Navy contacted the ship and told the captain that it would not be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip. The captain told the navy that the vessel would sail to El-Arish in Egypt. On Thursday morning, though, after the ship was already in Egyptian waters, it tried to break the blockade and sail into Gaza. The navy again contacted the ship and warned it to turn around. "They told us that they were determined to get to Gaza and that they did not plan to stop," explained a senior naval officer involved in the operation. "We told them that we planned to stop them if they broke the blockade. They explained that they didn't plan to stop. They continued, and we stopped them." Naval commandos took control of the vessel and ordered the captain to sail into the Ashdod Port. The passengers were transferred to police custody. During the takeover the soldiers encountered light resistance, and shots were fired in the air during the operation, the officer said. Reporters from Arab TV stations Al-Jadeed and Al-Jazeera who were aboard the Tali claimed the soldiers had fired at the ship before boarding it and beaten those on board. No weapons were found on the vessel. Among the passengers was 86-year-old Greek Catholic priest Hillarion Capucci, who, while serving as an archbishop in Jerusalem, was convicted in 1974 by an Israeli court for using his diplomatic status to smuggle arms to Palestinian terrorists. The Syrian-born Capucci was jailed but released three years later at the intervention of the Vatican and deported. Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora strongly condemned "the blatant attack" on the ship and said he held Israel responsible for the safety of the ship and its passengers. "This Israeli aggression is not surprising," he said. "Israel, which commits massacres against innocent civilians in Lebanon and Gaza, will not stop at committing an aggression in front of the world against a ship carrying humanitarian aid." At the United Nations, Lebanese diplomat Caroline Ziade urgently appealed to members of the 15-nation Security Council and to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, saying her government "calls on the international community to press Israel to immediately release the ship" and let it deliver tons of medicine, food and toys. "My government condemns the Israeli actions and considers them a blatant and flagrant breach to international law and international humanitarian law," she wrote. A Syrian Foreign Ministry statement sharply condemned what it called Israel's act of "maritime piracy." Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.