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Israel expels 3 Gaza flotilla activists after interception

Tunisia’s ex-president among those deported; Knesset member Basel Ghattas to face possible parliamentary sanctions

  • Crew members aboard the Marianne ship, one of four ships attempting to breach a naval blockade of Gaza, carrying about 20 activists, including Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas and former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. (Pablo Miranzo , Ship to Gaza-Sweden, via AP)
    Crew members aboard the Marianne ship, one of four ships attempting to breach a naval blockade of Gaza, carrying about 20 activists, including Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas and former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. (Pablo Miranzo , Ship to Gaza-Sweden, via AP)
  • File: Crew members aboard the Marianne ship (Pablo Miranzo , Ship to Gaza-Sweden, via AP)
    File: Crew members aboard the Marianne ship (Pablo Miranzo , Ship to Gaza-Sweden, via AP)
  • Crew members aboard the Marianne ship, one of four ships attempting to breach a naval blockade of Gaza, carrying about 20 activists, including Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas and former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. (Pablo Miranzo , Ship to Gaza-Sweden, via AP)
    Crew members aboard the Marianne ship, one of four ships attempting to breach a naval blockade of Gaza, carrying about 20 activists, including Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas and former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. (Pablo Miranzo , Ship to Gaza-Sweden, via AP)

Israel on Tuesday expelled three pro-Palestinian activists who were among 18 arrested when the IDF peacefully intercepted a Gaza-bound boat seeking to defy the Jewish state’s naval blockade Monday morning.

The former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, Spanish-European parliament member Ana Miranda and an Israeli-born activist who lives abroad were expelled from the country after the Swedish-registered Marianne of Gothenburg was towed in to Ashdod port late Monday.

The Israeli-Arab Knesset member Basel Ghattas was released from detention Tuesday and is expected to face a Knesset committee in the coming days that will mull stripping him of some of his parliamentary privileges.

The rest of the activists on board were being held in administrative detention in a Ramla prison, awaiting deportation.

Arab-Israeli parliament member MK Basel Ghattas  (Joint Arab List) in the Knesset. February 12, 2015. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
Arab-Israeli parliament member MK Basel Ghattas (Joint Arab List) in the Knesset. February 12, 2015. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

The interception occurred without incident and there were no injuries, the IDF said.

“The (former) president of Tunisia and the Spanish lawmaker flew this morning. There are another 14 who have begun the expulsion process,” a spokeswoman for Israel’s immigration authority told AFP on Tuesday.

Ghattas denounced the possible Knesset sanctions as a “revenge” plot, and told Israel Radio Tuesday that the Israeli Navy had “kidnapped” the so-called Freedom Flotilla III, purportedly on its way to deliver humanitarian aid to the Hamas-run coastal enclave.

Tunisian former president Moncef Marzouki in Tunis, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand, pool)
Tunisian former president Moncef Marzouki in Tunis, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand, pool)

A hearing due Tuesday on proposed measures against Ghattas was postponed to a later date to allow the Joint (Arab) List lawmaker to attend.

The Marianne was part of a four-boat flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists who had been seeking to reach the Gaza Strip. The three other boats had turned back before the interception for an unknown reason.

The IDF said in a statement that the vessel had been warned “several times” to change course, but had refused.

“Following their refusal, forces visited and searched the vessel in international waters in order to prevent the intended breach of the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement.

Spanish born European parliamentarian, Ana Miranda. (YouTube/Freedom Flotilla Coalition)
Spanish born European parliamentarian, Ana Miranda. (YouTube/Freedom Flotilla Coalition)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu censured the activists aboard the Marianne as “hypocritical,” and accused them of assisting the Islamist Hamas rulers of the Strip while ignoring atrocities across the region.

“Welcome to Israel!” a letter released by the Prime Minister’s Office read. “It appears you’ve made a mistake along the way. Perhaps you meant to sail somewhere not far from here — Syria. There, Assad’s regime is massacring his own people every day with the help of the murderous Iranian regime.”

The communique concludes by lamenting that the activists chose not to visit Israel, as they would have been “impressed” by the democracy upheld by the Jewish state that affords equality and religious freedoms for all its citizens.

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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