Gaza flotilla takeover ‘put lives at risk’

THE 14 Irish people on the MV Saoirse were hosed down under gun-point by Israeli commandos before being taken to jail where they suffered abusive treatment, according to reports.

They were part of a Freedom Wave of boats bound for Gaza with aid in an attempt to breach the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory, but like previous flotilla were stopped in international waters by the Israelis.

Irish coordinator Fintan Lane and Socialist party MEP Paul Murphy yesterday revealed the dangers they faced during the Israeli attack and their conditions in jail.

Dr Lane said the takeover of the MV Saoirse took about three hours, with Israeli forces surrounding them and the MV Tahrir, also on the humanitarian mission, before high-pressure hoses were turned on passengers.

Guns were also pointed at them through windows before they were finally taken away in a violent manner, he claimed.

“I was hosed down the stairs of the boat,” Dr Lane said.

“Windows were smashed and the bridge of the boat nearly caught fire. The boats were corralled to such an extent that the two boats, the Saoirse and the Tahrir, collided with each other and were damaged, with most of the damage happening to the MV Saoirse. The boats nearly sank. The method used in the takeover was dangerous to human life.”

During a 90-second phone call, Dr Lane added that the Israelis wanted to abandon the vessels at sea together with the $30,000 (€21,000) of medical aid for the Palestinians and only eventually after negotiations agreed to tow them to land.

The report from MEP Paul Murphy, relayed by the Socialist party, said those on board were shackled and deprived of all personal belongings.

“In Givon prison the authorities tried to disorientate us through sleep deprivation and the removal of our watches and the prison clock recording the wrong time. We have been given no time-frame as to how long we will be kept there before the deportation trial. We were denied our right to contact our families within 24 hours of arrest”, he is reported as saying.

Following protests, Mr Murphy said their treatment improved and their books and writing materials were returned to them.

All 14 refused to sign what Mr Murphy described as confessions that they had illegally entered Israeli territory as they were arrested in international waters about 74km from Gaza, he said.

As a result they are expected to appear before a judge, possibly tomorrow, who is likely to order their deportation together with most of the 13 who were on the Canadian vessel.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said they are in constant touch with the Israeli’s.

Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore has condemned the Israeli action and voiced the Government’s opposition to Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Former Fianna Fáil foreign minister Micheál Martin, who circumvented Israel’s refusal to allow him visit Gaza two years ago, said: “I salute the people who undertook this humanitarian mission to Gaza and their efforts to highlight the plight of the Palestinian people living there.

“Israel’s actions in boarding the vessel and detaining citizens are totally unacceptable.”

The MV Saoirse suffered sabotage when tied up in Turkey in June while other boats from the flotilla that had pulled into Athens were detained by the authorities and were unable to continue their journey.

In May 2010, six ships en route to Gaza were attacked by Israeli commandos resulting in the deaths of nine people who were said to have resisted with iron bars, dinner plates and knives. Ten Israeli soldiers were injured, one seriously.

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