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Activists: Gaza boat passengers refuse deportation deal

Nov. 6, 2011 10:19 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 7, 2011 6:24 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Activists detained in Israel after they attempted to sail to Gaza are refusing to sign a deportation agreement, a spokeswoman for the group said Sunday.

The document states that they entered Israel voluntarily and in an illegal manner, which the imprisoned boat passengers dispute, Huwaida Arraf said in a statement.

Their refusal to sign the deal, which would see them deported immediately, means they will be held for 72 hours before an Israeli immigration judge reviews their deportation, Arraf added.

The Irish-flagged Saoirse ("Freedom") and the Canadian ship Tahrir ("Liberation") -- carrying 27 activists and reporters from nine countries -- were intercepted by Israeli naval commandos in international waters off the Gaza coast and taken to Israeli port Ashdod on Friday.

Israeli Interior ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said on Saturday that six passengers had been released and the remaining 21 people were still being held at a detention facility in Ramla near Tel Aviv.

Coordinator of the Irish ship Fintan Lane said Israeli forces used high-pressure hoses to take over the vessel, and caused a collision between the vessels, in a telephone call made to boat organizers from jail on Sunday.

Greek captain of the Tahrir Giorgos Klontzas, since released from jail, told Greek Omnia TV that Israel forces handcuffed him tightly and stuck fingers in his eyes during interrogation.

The Israeli military said no one was injured in the operation to block the ships from reaching Gaza, under a tightened Israeli blockade since Hamas took power in 2007.

The Israeli military maintains a land and maritime embargo on the coastal enclave of 1.6 million people, which international organisations criticize as "collective punishment," in breach of the Geneva Conventions.

Activists organised 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 nationals 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 at port. Activists -- who blamed the disabling of the ships on Israel -- kept this week's voyage under wraps until they set off from a southern Turkish port on Wednesday to avoid similar attempts, they said.
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