Israel has freed six of 27 passengers and crew who were aboard two ships intercepted by its navy while trying to run the Jewish state’s blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, an official said on Saturday.
Commandos boarded the Irish-flagged Saoirse and the Canadian ship Tahrir in international waters off Gaza on Friday, before the navy escorted them to the port of Ashdod, the military said.
Israeli Interior Mministry spokesperson Sabine Hadad said the six released included an Israeli Arab, two Greek crewmen and three journalists — from Egypt, Spain and the US.
She said the remaining 21 people were still being held at a detention facility in Ramla near Tel Aviv, after questioning by immigration authorities.
Asked when the 21 activists were expected to be freed, Hadad said the deportation process requires them to see a judge, a process that would take at least 72 hours.
At the end of the process, Israel would fly the activists back to their homelands, she said. Fourteen of the activists held by Israel were Irish, the rest are from Canada, Scotland, Australia and the US.
Activists organized a major attempt to break the Israeli blockade in May last year, when six ships led by the Turkish Mavi Marmara tried to reach Gaza.
Israeli troops stormed the Marmara, killing nine Turkish activists and sparking a diplomatic crisis with Ankara, which expelled the Israeli ambassador and has cut military ties with the Jewish state.
Earlier this year, a second flotilla tried to reach Gaza, but several ships were sabotaged — which activists blamed on Israel.
Only the French-flagged yacht, the Dignity, was able to attempt the last leg of the journey, but was stopped by the navy and those on board were deported.
Two months ago, a UN report on the flotilla raid accused the Jewish state of acting with “excessive force,” but found that its naval blockade on the coastal territory was legal.
Meanwhile, a member of Islamic Jihad was killed and three other Palestinians were wounded in Israeli air strikes on Gaza on Saturday, Palestinian medics and witnesses said.
Security sources said three raids targeted Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, with the initial two not causing casualties.
Witnesses said Abed Muhana, 20, a member of al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, was killed in the raid. Medics said three other people were wounded, but there was no immediate word on their condition.
An Israeli military spokesperson said the aircraft targeted “terrorists preparing to fire rockets at Israel.”
Witnesses said Palestinian militants fired a rocket from Khan Yunis aimed at Israeli territory following the deadly air raid. There was no immediate confirmation from the Israeli military.
On Thursday, two Palestinians were killed in an air strike in northern Gaza.
Israel said its air force targeted a “terrorist squad” that had opened fire on troops in a border area.
That strike came after several days of calm in and around Gaza.