2 Jun 2010

Israel to free detainees from Gaza fleet

5:28 pm on 2 June 2010

Israel has decided to free hundreds of foreign activists detained aboard an aid flotilla to Gaza early on Monday morning.

The government had been threatening to put some on trial.

Political sources say cabinet ministers made the decision amid rising world protests against Israel's raid of the flotilla, in which nine people died.

It's reported that 679 activists were brought to the Israeli port of Ashdod. Of these, 50 agreed to be voluntarily deported and more than 30 are being treated in hospital.

The rest, almost 600 people including New Zealander Nicola Enchmarch, are in detention centres across Israel.

A spokesperson for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says everyone held will be freed, including two dozen Israel had earlier threatened to prosecute for allegedly assaulting its troops.

A New Zealander, Nicola Enchmarch, is among them, as are five Australians. One of those, 20-year-old Ahmad Luqman, was shot in the leg and has had surgery at a hospital in Tel Aviv.

On the Israel-Jordan border a BBC correspondent reports that a large crowd has gathered to welcome 100 freed Muslim activists.

The incident took place before dawn on Monday about 64km out to sea, in international waters.

Israel says its actions were justified.

The UN Security Council has called for an inquiry into the action. The American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, says Washington backs that call.

Israel meanwhile is repatriating the families of its embassy staff in Turkey -a former ally. Four of the nine activists killed were Turkish.

Different version

Eyewitness accounts from ships raided by Israeli commandos are different to Israel's version of the events.

German pro-Palestinian activist Norman Paech says he saw only wooden sticks being brandished, as troops abseiled on to the deck of the ship.

Israel has said its soldiers were attacked with knives, clubs and other weapons and opened fire in self defence.

Mr Paech, who is now back in Germany, says he personally saw a few wooden batons that were used, and nothing else. He says he did not see any knives.

Another German activist, Inge Hoeger, says no one had any weapons.

More aid

Meanwhile, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has ordered the opening of the crossing between Gaza and Egypt to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

It's unclear if this is a temporary measure. The border has been closed since 2007.