JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel on Wednesday deported more than 600 foreign activists whose accounts of a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla contradicted Israeli reports that its soldiers acted in self-defence.
As a new standoff with another aid ship loomed, British Prime Minister David Cameron took a tough stand against Monday’s pre-dawn Israeli raid, which killed nine activists on the flotilla, terming it “completely unacceptable.”
The UN Human Rights Council, meanwhile, adopted a resolution setting up an independent international probe into the raid which took place in international waters of the eastern Mediterranean.
The hundreds of activists detained on the boats and diverted to Israel have all been released for deportation, prisons authority spokesman Yron Zamir said. They were all taken to Tel Aviv airport or the Jordanian border.
Authorities said 682 people from 42 countries, with Turks the top participants, were on board the six ships that tried to bust Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.
Under fire internationally over the bloodshed, Israel retorted that the violence had been initiated by the activists, forcing its soldiers to use live fire in self-defence.
The Israeli soldiers “defended themselves from a lynching,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.
But on their return home, many of the activists accused the Israelis of having opened fire without warning.
“Israeli commandos started shooting from the air without warning,” Kuwaiti lawyer Mubarak al-Mutawa, who was on the main vessel, the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, told reporters in Kuwait City.
Moroccan MP Abdelqader Amara told AFP in a hotel in Amman: “The Israelis used live ammunition and showed us all the barbarism and cruelty in the world although all of us were unarmed.”
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned earlier on Wednesday against any Israeli effort to prosecute the activists. “No one has the right to prosecute people kidnapped in international waters,” he said.
About 380 Turks were on the six-boat flotilla when it was raided by Israeli naval forces in an operation that quickly deteriorated into chaos and bloodshed.
Turkey has already recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and scrapped plans for joint military exercises, plunging already sour bilateral ties into deep crisis.
There was very little official information about the condition of the injured passengers being treated in Israeli hospitals.
By mid-afternoon, 28 activists were in hospitals, but authorities later said the majority of the wounded were being deported, according to Physicians for Human Rights.
A few though can still not be transported. “I know of at least two people who are not conscious,” said spokeswoman Adar Grayevsky.
With nine bodies lying in the mortuary, none of whom have been officially identified, Israel’s political leadership was locked in talks over how to handle the arrival of another foreign aid ship, due early next week.
And as the diplomatic fallout intensified over the commando raid, which reportedly killed four Turks, Ankara earlier warned it would rethink its ties with Israel unless all Turkish nationals were released on Wednesday.
While the bloody showdown has dented Israel’s international image, activists bent on running the Gaza blockade said another ship of Irish and Malaysian activists is heading toward Gaza despite the potential for more violence.
The Rachel Corrie, which is carrying building supplies, is in the Mediterranean, and organisers say it will be several days before it arrives in Gaza.
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Micheal Martin on Wednesday renewed an “urgent” appeal for the ship, reported to be carrying 15 people including a Nobel laureate from Ireland and a Malaysian MP, to be allowed to reach Gaza.
“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,” he said.
Britain, France, Russia and China — four of the five veto-wielding UN Security Council members — have urged Israel to lift its three-year-old blockade of Gaza.
Amid global outrage over the flotilla killings, Nicaragua on Wednesday became the first country to suspend diplomatic relations with Israel.
In another reaction, Egypt opened its Rafah crossing into Gaza for Palestinians to move in and out, and to allow in humanitarian aid.