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Israel Begins Deportation Of Aid Flotilla Activists

An activist who was seized during the aid-convoy raid bound for Gaza gestures upon his arrival in Jordan on June 2.

An activist who was seized during the aid-convoy raid bound for Gaza gestures upon his arrival in Jordan on June 2.

Israel has begun expelling the hundreds of activists seized during a commando raid on an international aid convoy sailing toward Gaza.

An initial group of deportees, consisting of some 120 people from a dozen Muslim countries, was driven across the Allenby Bridge into Jordan, from where they will be helped to return home.

A spokesman for the Israeli prisons service says several hundred more were taken to Ben Gurion airport for deportation.

A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the government's aim is to deport some 630 activists from 35 countries within two days. However, officials say some 50 people will continue to be held while their roles in the fighting aboard the lead ship in the convoy is investigated.

Nine civilians died and an unknown number of others were wounded in the fighting between commandoes and activists during Israel's May 31 military action to halt the convoy on the high seas.

One of the deportees, Kuwaiti activist Abdul Rahman Failakawee, spoke to Reuters at the border crossing in Jordan.

"The attack was totally barbaric," Failakawee said. "They used legitimate and maybe illegitimate weapons. They used rubber bullets and live ammunition, sound bombs, and tear gas bombs. They also used batons as they boarded the ship to beat those who were on board and to take control of the ship."

Israel insists that its soldiers were forced to defend themselves against activists who attacked them with iron bars, knives, and gunfire.

The incident has caused an international furor, with Turkey taking the lead in condemning Israel for what it calls "murderous" behavior. The aid convoy started its voyage in Turkey, and many of the activists onboard were Turkish.

The UN Human Rights Council today passed a resolution setting up an independent fact-finding mission to investigate the incident. The resolution condemned what it called the "outrageous attack" on the flotilla and called for the lifting of the blockade on Gaza.

Terror Links Alleged

Reports from Istanbul say the organizers of the convoy, the Free Gaza Movement, had support from a Turkish Islamic charity called IHH. That organization purchased a former ferry to be the lead ship in the convoy, and reputedly made major donations to the venture.

"The New York Times" has quoted Israeli officials as saying IHH has links to the Al-Qaeda terror organization, and also supports the Islamist Hamas regime which rules in Gaza. They also allege IHH has acted as a weapons collection point. The charity denies these charges.

The United States is working diplomatically to calm the situation, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear in remarks in Washington.

"Turkey and Israel are both good friends of the United States and we are working with both to deal with the aftermath of this tragic incident," Clinton said.

She said the United States supports, in the strongest terms, the UN Security Council’s call for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation into the flotilla deaths.

compiled from agency reports