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Middle East

Israeli Gaza boat activists freed from custody

The Swedish-owned, Finnish-flagged vessel Estelle is escorted by Israeli naval police as it sails to the port of Ashdod, Israel, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM: A court in southern Israel on Monday freed from custody three Israeli citizens who accompanied pro-Palestinian activists on a Gaza-bound boat intercepted by the Israeli navy, their lawyer said, while authorities said 10 foreigners were expelled.

Gaby Lasky said that the three Israelis had been placed under house arrest until Tuesday but were not expected to face further proceedings.

She said Israeli-born activist Dror Feiler, who has renounced his citizenship and now holds Swedish nationality, had been added to the international group.

A spokeswoman for population and immigration services said, meanwhile, that the authorities have expelled 10 of the 27 people arrested after Israeli commanders took over the Finnish-flagged vessel the Estelle.

"Ten activists -- three Spaniards, one Italian, five Greeks and a Finnish citizen -- were expelled after they renounced in writing against appealing an Israeli judge's decision to expel them," spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said.

"Steps are under way to expel 11 Swedes who are among 17 foreigners still held," she said. Four Norwegians and a Canadian were among those detained at Givon prison in Ramle, near Tel Aviv, pending a court hearing on deportation.

There were five parliamentarians from Europe among the 30 people on board when the navy intercepted the vessel on Saturday.

Former Canadian lawmaker Jim Manly, who is in his late 70s, was also on board.

Lasky said some activists accused troops of tasering them when they boarded, but the Israeli military denied the allegation.

Saturday's takeover ended the latest attempt by pro-Palestinian activists to breach Israel's tight maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip, which prohibits all sea traffic to and from the coastal territory.

Organisers said the Estelle was carrying a shipment of humanitarian aid and 30 doves, which the passengers had intended to release after docking in Gaza.

In May 2010, pro-Palestinian activists tried to reach the Gaza Strip in a six-ship flotilla which was stormed by Israeli troops in a botched pre-dawn operation which left nine Turkish nationals dead, sparking a diplomatic crisis with Ankara.

Since then, there have been several other attempts to reach Gaza by boat, all of which have been stopped by Israel, although there has been no repeat of the bloodshed.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the coastal territory, which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement.

 

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