Call for probe after Irish campaigners seized on Gaza mission

Two Irish campaigners were detained tonight in Israel after being arrested on a humanitarian mission to Gaza in which at least 15 people were shot dead.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen demanded an international inquiry into the assault by Israeli commandoes who stormed boats bound for the blockaded Palestinian port.

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin claimed Irish citizens had been “kidnapped in international waters”.

Israel claimed its troops were acting in self defence but Mr Cowen joined other European leaders claiming the military operation to halt the flotilla was disproportionate and questioned its legality.

Three Irish campaigners – Dr Fintan Lane, Fiachra O Luain and Shane Dillon - were seized on the Free Gaza boat Challenger 1 which had travelled from Cyprus in the first wave and was boarded by Israeli forces.

There were unconfirmed reports another Irishman was injured.

Mr Dillon agreed to be deported while Dr Lane and Mr O Luain vowed to fight the order in court and were being held in the Be’er Sheva detention camp.

Mr Cowen said the Israeli blockade of Gaza was to blame for the shoot-out on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship, from the pro-Islamic aid group IHH.

“The reason this has happened is there’s a blockade taking place at the moment in respect of humanitarian assistance being provided to Gaza, to the people of Gaza.

“I believe that is in violation of international law. People are entitled to have humanitarian assistance.”

The vessels are understood to have been boarded by Israeli Navy ships while in international waters, 80 miles off the coast of Gaza. They were later taken to the northern Israeli port of Ashdod.

Dr Lane’s father Jim said he was proud of his son.

“I am proud of my son, not only for going on this solidarity mission to Gaza, but also for refusing deportation,” Mr Lane said.

“He is making a point that Israel should have no control over who enter Gaza. He has done nothing wrong and I support him.

“Furthermore, it is my belief that the United States should stop giving carte blanche to the Israeli state, for it is this support that gives Israel the confidence to act with such impunity.”

Mr Martin summoned the Israeli Ambassador Dr Zion Evrony to a meeting in Dublin and after 30 minutes of talks in Iveagh House he said the crew on one ship had resisted Israel’s attempts to detain them.

“Unfortunately, some of our forces were met by a violent ambush by some of the Turkish ship,” the Ambassador said.

“We were attacked violently by live ammunition, with knives. They (soldiers) felt their life was in danger and they felt that they had to defend themselves.”

He added: “I’m not ashamed or embarrassed and I’m sure if Dublin would have been attacked by 10,000 missiles in a year and a half, your reaction would have been the same – you’d be better able to understand the position of the Israeli government,” he said.

Mr Martin said the military action was totally unacceptable.

“The reports of up to 15 people killed and 50 injured, if confirmed, would constitute a totally unacceptable response by the Israeli military to what was a humanitarian mission attempting to deliver much-needed supplies to the people of Gaza,” Mr Martin said.

Internet footage has emerged showing pandemonium on board the Mavi Marmara, with activists in orange lifejackets running around as others tried to help a colleague lying on the deck.

It is understood two Irish Muslims were travelling on the Turkish vessel.

The flotilla, which had been warned it would not be allowed to pass the Israeli sea blockade, was carrying about 10,000 tonnes of aid and about 800 passengers on eight ships. It left Cyprus yesterday despite warnings.

Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Maguire was on board the Irish ship MV Rachel Corrie in the convoy. In 2009 she was arrested and detained in Israel after attempting to defy the blockade by sailing a boat-load of aid in.

That boat is about two and a half days’ journey behind the front of the flotilla after encountering technical difficulties and leaving Malta for Gaza today.

The Ambassador warned it would be boarded if it tried to enter Palestinian waters.

Mr Cowen questioned whether the Israeli Navy had the right to board ships in international seas.

Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) chairman Dr David Landy also accused Israel of breaching international law.

“The fact that Israel would allow its forces to kill and wound international human rights activists shows the world once again that Israeli is a rogue state that acts with impunity,” he claimed.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said staff were trying to contact Irish citizens on the flotilla directly and also through the campaigners’ co-ordination centre in Cyprus.

It is understood boats involved in the flotilla will be escorted to the northern Israeli port of Haifa.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the Israeli attack was an affront to international law.

“It requires a firm and resolute response by the Irish Government, which must now expel the Israeli Ambassador,” Mr Adams said.

The IPSC held a demonstration in Dublin from O’Connell Street to the Israeli embassy in Ballsbridge.

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