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Hamas slams Israel halt of boats as passengers deported

Nov. 5, 2011 1:45 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 7, 2011 2:54 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hamas called the Israeli apprehension of two boats headed for the Gaza Strip on Friday "a crime against international laws," as Israel began deporting passengers seized off the Gaza coast.

Spokeswoman for the activists Huwaida Arraf said Israeli authorities had released at least two of 27 passengers in the latest attempt to break Israel's blockade on Gaza.

Majd Kayyal from Haifa, and Lina Atallah from Egypt, were released from Israeli custody and Atallah returned to Egypt via the Taba crossing with Israel, Arraf said.

An Israeli Immigration Authority spokeswoman said two Greek citizens were flown home on Saturday and two journalists, one American and one Spanish, were to board flights on Sunday.

Twenty one other activists were being held in custody in Israel and were awaiting deportation, the spokeswoman said.

The Israeli navy boarded the Irish-flagged Saoirse ("Freedom") and the Canadian ship Tahrir ("Liberation") in international waters and took the boats to Israeli port Ashkelon on Friday afternoon.

"The siege is itself a crime, so how can (Israel) ban activists from coming to support Gaza?" the statement from Hamas, the ruling faction in Gaza, said Friday.

Israeli authorities said those on board would be questioned, then taken to prison service holding facilities where they will wait until booked on flights back home. They have the right to a court hearing before being deported.

Arraf said some passengers refused to leave the Canadian boat, and were beaten by Israeli forces.

"They are bruised but ok," she said.

"They were prevented from calling lawyers" from jail, she added.

The boats, carrying people from nine countries, set sail to Gaza from Fethiye, Turkey, in a secret launch due to accusations in July that Israel tried to sabotage a previous effort, the activists said in a statement Wednesday.

Hamas said it considers Israel's interception of the boats "Israeli piracy against Palestinian solidarity activists."

The movement called on the United Nations to halt Israel's violations of the rights of Palestinians.

Israel tightened a land and maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2007 after Hamas took control of the coastal enclave of 1.6 million people.

Activists organized a major attempt to break the Israeli blockade in May 2010, when six ships led by the Turkish Mavi Marmara tried to reach Gaza.

Israeli troops stormed the Marmara, killing nine Turkish activists and sparking a diplomatic crisis with Ankara, which expelled the Israeli ambassador and has cut military ties with Israel.

Earlier this year, a second flotilla tried to reach Gaza, but several ships were sabotaged -- which activists blamed on Israel.

Only the French-flagged yacht, the Dignity, was able to attempt the last leg of the journey but was stopped by the navy and those on board were deported.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the coastal territory, which is run by Hamas.

Two months ago, a UN report on the flotilla raid accused Israel of acting with "excessive force" but found that its naval blockade on the coastal territory was legal.

Reuters contributed to this report
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