JERUSALEM (AFP) – All activists and crew on board the Rachel Corrie aid ship which tried to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza would be expelled from Israel on Sunday, an Israeli immigration official told AFP.
"Everyone on board the boat will be expelled on Sunday after they signed a waiver renouncing their right to appeal to an Israeli judge," said Sabine Haddad.
She said six Malaysian nationals and a Cuban would leave Israel through the Allenby crossing into Jordan, while the remaining 11 people would fly out of Israel from Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv.
|An Israeli flag flutters in the foreground as the Rachel Corrie aid ship enters the military port of Ashdod in southern Israel. AFP photo|
Immigration officials earlier said the process had been delayed after the five Irish nationals, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, had initially refused to sign the waiver.
Israeli forces intercepted and seized control of the Rachel Corrie on Saturday as it tried to reach the Gaza Strip, in a peaceful operation which had a radically different outcome from an earlier raid on an aid flotilla that left nine dead.
The Irish-owned 1,200-tonne vessel was escorted into the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, and the activists and crew were taken to the Holon immigration centre near Tel Aviv for questioning.
Israel said its forces boarded the Rachel Corrie -- named after a US activist killed in 2003 as she tried to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from razing a Palestinian home -- "with the agreement" of those on board.
"Our forces boarded the boat and took control without meeting any resistance from the crew or the passengers. Everything took place without violence," a military spokeswoman told AFP.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the operation.
"We saw today the difference between a ship of peace activists, with whom we don't agree but respect their right to a different opinion from ours, and between a ship of hate organised by violent Turkish terror extremists," he said.
Saturday's outcome stood in stark contrast to a botched navy operation against a six-ship flotilla on Monday, which ended in the deaths of nine activists -- eight Turks and a US-Turkish citizen.
But the latest takeover prompted a furious response from the Dublin-based Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
"For the second time in less then a week, Israeli forces stormed and hijacked an unarmed aid ship, kidnapping its passengers and forcing the ship toward Ashdod port," it said.
The Rachel Corrie was carrying around 1,000 tonnes of aid and supplies, half of which was reportedly cement which is barred by Israel which fears it could be used by the Islamist group Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip to build fortifications.
Saturday's operation came at a sensitive time, with Israel diplomatically isolated after Monday's deadly raid.
The bloody end to that humanitarian mission unleashed fury, with several thousand people protesting across Europe on Saturday, including an estimated 10,000 in Istanbul.
Turkish prosecutors are reportedly examining the possibility of prosecuting Israeli leaders over the raid.
Angry protesters chanting anti-Israeli slogans and waving Palestinian and Turkish flags also took to the streets of Dublin, Edinburgh, London and Paris as well as other French cities on Saturday.
In Lebanon, two pro-Palestinian groups launched a fund-raising campaign to buy a ship which they hoped to sail to Gaza next week.
A senior UN official on Sunday said the botched raid should be used as a reason for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
"We very much want to see what's happened, or use what's happened, tragic as it is, as an opportunity to try to... persuade Israel to change policy," the UN's Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Holmes told AFP in Sydney.
Meanwhile, Britain said on Sunday it was giving 19 million pounds (27 million dollars, 23 million euros) for refugees in Gaza and repeated calls for Israel to lift its blockade of the territory, which has been in place since 2006 when the Islamist Hamas movement formed a government after sweeping parliamentary elections.