Sat, Feb 07, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Ship activists held by Israel navy return to Lebanon

AGENCIES , BEIRUT

A Lebanese ship is escorted by an Israeli naval boat near the port in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

Ten activists and journalists detained by the Israeli navy on a cargo ship carrying humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip have returned to Lebanon, security officials and activists said.

The nine Lebanese and a Palestinian resident of Lebanon arrived early yesterday, with the help of the UN peacekeeping force, across the Lebanese-Israeli border at the coastal town of Naqoura.

The 10 were among 18 activists and crew held for several hours after their ship was seized by the Israeli navy enforcing a blockade of the Palestinian territory.

All 18 people aboard were expelled to different destinations, apparently according to nationality.

Lebanese TV station al-Jadeed said one of the passengers, 86-year-old former Greek Catholic archbishop of Jerusalem Hillarion Capucci, was taken to the Golan Heights where he crossed into Syria.

Three others were to be flown out to London early yesterday, Israeli officials have said.

It was not immediately clear where the four other people detained were headed.

“It was long and difficult,” Salam Khoder, correspondent for the pan-Arab al-Jazeera television, said of the ordeal.

She and Hani Suleiman, one of the organizers, said the Israelis intercepted and detained the ship and its passengers in Egyptian territorial waters.

Speaking on al-Jazeera at the border crossing, she said the Israeli navy opened fire three times. Later, about 25 soldiers boarded the ship.

Soldiers hit her, she said, along with another female reporter for Lebanese TV al-Jadeed, Ugarith Dandash, as well as Suleiman.

Those aboard were blindfolded, handcuffed and separated, Khoder said. Then they were interrogated by plainclothes agents and their belongings and equipment taken away. They were later taken to Israel’s port of Ashdod along with the ship.

Israeli officials weren’t immediately available for comment.

The activists refused to answer questions, Khoder said.

Meanwhile, two rockets fired from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel yesterday but there were no casualties or damage, the Israeli military said.

A fragile ceasefire has been in place since Israel ended a 22-day military offensive in Gaza on Jan. 18 that was designed to punish the Islamist Hamas group for cross-border rocket attacks from the Palestinian coastal enclave.

Israel has responded to past attacks with air strikes.

An Israeli army spokesman said the rockets were fired from the northern Gaza Strip.

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