Israel has begun deporting the first batch of foreign activists seized aboard a six-ship humanitarian aid flotilla seized in an Israel Navy raid en route to the Gaza Strip, the Foreign Ministry said early Wednesday, indicating that the rest of the activists will be escorted out of the country throughout the day.
The decision to deport the hundreds of foreign activists was announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided late Tuesday, in the face of mounting world criticism of Monday’s assault.
Israeli officials said all 680 activists held would be released, including two dozen Israel had threatened earlier to prosecute charging they had assaulted its troops.
According to a Foreign Ministry official, the first busload of Turkish activists had already left the Be’er Sheva jail, in which they were kept, en route to Ben Gurion International Airport, where three Turkish planes were already waiting. More buses were planned to leave Be’er Sheva during the morning hours, thus finalizing the deportation of the Turkish nationals.
In addition, 124 activists from 12 Muslim nations - most of them without diplomatic ties with Israel - crossed the Allenby Bridge aboard five Jordanian buses.
Jordanian government spokesman Nabil Al-Sharif said there were 30 Jordanians in the group. Jordan is one of two Arab nations with a signed peace treaty with Israel.
The bridge’s Jordanian chief, Brig. Mahmoud Abu Jumaa, said Jordan will help repatriate the activists - who include lawmakers and journalists - to their respective countries in coordination with their governments.
Kuwaiti ambassador Sheik Faisal Al Sabah said there were 16 Kuwaitis aboard the buses. They will be flown home aboard a Kuwaiti government-chartered plane later Wednesday, Al Sabah said.
He said the other activists came from Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Yemen, Oman and Bahrain.
Dozens of other activists remain in Israeli detention, but most are expected to be deported in the coming days.
“It was agreed that the detainees would be deported immediately,” Nir Hefez, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said in a written statement to reporters Tuesday. Netanyahu made the decision after consultations with his top ministers.
The activists from Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa were processed in and around Israel’s port of Ashdod on Monday evening, where the six ships of the blockade-running convoy had been escorted after a raid on a Turkish-flagged vessel left nine people dead.
One hundred and twenty of the nearly 700 passengers were transferred Tuesday evening to the border crossing with Jordan, from where they will be returned to their home countries.
The Interior Ministry said 682 activists were ordered deported, and that 45 left on Tuesday, while others were jailed as they challenged the orders, or in hospital being treated for injuries.
Israel gave the following breakdown of countries and numbers of those activists ordered expelled, excluding the nine killed and the seriously wounded in Monday’s raid:
Australia 3; Azerbaijan 2; Italy 6; Indonesia 12; Ireland 9; Algeria 28; United States 11; Bulgaria 2; Bosnia 1; Bahrain 4; Belgium 5; Germany 11; South Africa 1; Holland 2; United Kingdom 31; Greece 38; Jordan 30; Kuwait 15; Lebanon 3; Mauritania 3; Malaysia 11; Egypt 3; Macedonia 3; Morocco 7; Norway 3; New Zealand 1; Syria 3; Serbia 1; Oman 1; Pakistan 3; Czech Republic 4; France 9; Kosovo 1; Canada 1; Sweden 11; Turkey 380; Yemen 4.
Nicaragua severs diplomatic ties with Israel over flotilla raid
Nicaragua has severed its diplomatic ties with Israel over the deadly raid on a Gaza humanitarian aid flotilla earlier in the week, a governmental statement said Wednesday.
In the announcement quoted by Army Radio, the Nicaraguan government said that the “attack on the Gaza-bound shipment is a clear violation of international and humanitarian law.”
Nicaragua’s statement comes two months after Mauritania’s foreign minister announced his country would sever ties with Israel, completing a process that began last year.
Mauritania, an Islamic nation that straddles black and Arab Africa, has stopped “completely and definitely its diplomatic relations with Israel,” Naha Mint Mouknass said in the desert capital Nouakchott.
At one time it was one of only three Arab countries to have full diplomatic relations with Israel, but in March last year Mauritania expelled Israeli representatives and closed the Israeli embassy in Nouakchott. The move came after it froze ties in response to Israel’s attacks on Gaza.