Five Irish citizens expected back from Israel tonight

Five Irish citizens who were detained during the Israeli raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza are expected to leave Israel today.

Five Irish citizens who were detained during the Israeli raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza are expected to leave Israel today.

The process of releasing and deporting nearly 700 activists began this morning.

Israel says it will continue to question 50 people held during the operation on Monday.

Kevin Squires from the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign says they're hopeful the five Irish could be home as soon as tonight.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, has welcomed the Israeli Government’s decision.

Mr Martin said: "I am pleased that, in response to the clear calls made by many in the international community, including the Irish Government and the UN Security Council, Israel has now decided to release immediately all those still in detention after being seized in international waters on Monday morning following the storming of the Gaza convoy.

"I look forward to the prompt and safe return of the six Irish citizens who still remain in Israeli custody.

"I again repeat my urgent call to the Israeli government to allow safe passage of the Irish-owned vessel, the MV Rachel Corrie, which is still sailing towards Gaza to deliver its consignment of humanitarian aid. It is imperative that there should be no further confrontation or bloodshed arising from what has been all along a purely humanitarian mission by those involved in the Gaza flotilla.

"The Government will be maintaining close contact with the Israeli government on this issue in the coming days."

Meanwhile, a British activist caught up in the incident described the attack today after arriving home in Scotland.

Glasgow resident Hasan Nowarah was one of at least four Scots with the convoy when it was taken by commandos.

Theresa McDermott, from Edinburgh, Hassan Ghani, from Glasgow, and Ali El-Awaisi, from Dundee, were also onboard.

Mr Nowarah, chair of the Justice for Palestine Centre in Glasgow, was deported from Israel last night after the flotilla was intercepted.

He flew into London and then made his way home to Glasgow last night.

He said Israeli ships surrounded the convoy on Saturday night before the attack, playing “cat and mouse games” with the Mavi Marmara ship.

He told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “The warships and their zodiacs were approaching us slowly, slowly, but no confrontation. They were communicating with our captains through the radios, warning us to turn back.

“But we explained to them we are in the international water. We are not attacking Israel, we are humanitarian aid, we are sailing to Gaza.”

Mr Nowarah then saw Israeli soldiers storm the Mavi Marmara ship before they boarded the ship he was on.

He told the programme: “At 4 o’clock local time it was prayer time and as we finish our prayer all we can hear is people screaming.

“We looked at the Marmara ship, we can see the Israeli helicopters dropping soldiers and screaming and shouting, bullets firing all over the place.

“Within seconds we can hear ’tick tick tick’ around our ship. It turned out they were using paintballing guns they were shooting at us. We all went up, running to prevent them in a peaceful manner from entering the ship.

“I had an ambassador sitting beside me, he was pushed by Israeli soldiers, I went and I stood between them and he pushed me with his M16, he smacked me in the back of my back and I fall down. He hit me with his rifle to my ligament.”

Mr Nowarah said he suffered a ligament injury to his leg, and believes that is why he was deported so quickly.

He added: “Our mission is to deliver human and medical aid to the people who have been under the blockade for the last four years.

“The aim from our flotilla was to help these people and to break the siege.”

Israeli officials said the death toll was nine, but some reports put it as high as 19.

Israel insists its forces retaliated against an attack by people on board the aid flotilla, who it says were armed with weapons including knives and guns.

The British Foreign Office said several British nationals were detained by Israeli authorities following the incident, but it was not aware of any British nationals being killed in the raid.

Scottish woman Jane Hanley’s brother Clifford is one of those detained and still in the Middle East.

She told the programme: “I’ve heard nothing from Clifford himself. But I did hear this morning from the Foreign and Commonwealth staff that the embassy staff have been in Be’er Sheva prison and spoken to all the British detainees and, as far as we know, he’s safe and well and is being deported as soon as possible.”

She said she had feared for the safety of her brother on this trip, adding: “Particularly knowing the actions of the Israelis, it certainly wasn’t a Mediterranean cruise he was going on.”

Mr Hanley took part in the overland aid to Gaza mission at Christmas, and she said he is not likely to be deterred from further missions.

She said: “One of his friends wishes he would just stay at home and grow petunias but that ain’t Clifford, I’m afraid.”

The expulsion of activists – including more than 40 Britons – was under way today.

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