FIFTEEN activists held after Israeli forces intercepted their boat as they attempted to sail to Gaza will be deported today, an Israeli official said.
Sabine Hadad, spokeswoman for Israel’s immigration service, confirmed that the 15 passengers, including 11 French citizens and others from Sweden, Canada and Greece, would be sent home.
‘The 15 passengers were interviewed on Tuesday evening by our services and have voluntarily agreed to sign a document saying that they are ready to leave in 72 hours,’ Hadad said.
‘In principle, they will be placed on board flights leaving this Wednesday for Athens, Paris, Toronto and Stockholm,’ she said.
The 15 passengers, along with an Israeli journalist, were taken into custody on Tuesday afternoon, when Israeli naval forces surrounded the French-flagged Dignite Al Karama as it neared the coast of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli forces boarded the vessel and sailed it and the passengers to the southern port of Ashdod, where the Israeli reporter – Amira Hass of the Haaretz newspaper – was released.
The remaining passengers were interviewed by immigration services in Holon, near the northern city of Tel Aviv.
The Dignite Al Karama was the only ship remaining from a 10-vessel flotilla that had planned to sail to Gaza this summer.
The plans for the full flotilla were called off after several vessels suffered damage that activists blamed on Israeli sabotage.
Greece refused to let boats docked at its ports set sail for the Palestinian territory.
The Dignite Al Karama had sailed from the Greek island of Kastellorizo on Saturday evening, telling coast guards it planned to head to the Egyptian port of Alexandria.
Greece said it was refusing boats permission to head to Gaza in order to protect the activists on board, after an attempt in May 2010 by a six-boat flotilla to reach the blockaded Palestinian territory ended in bloodshed.
Israeli commandos raided the ships as they neared Gaza, killing nine Turkish activists and prompting both an international outcry and a deep crisis in relations between Israel and Ankara.
Meanwhile, the UNRWA headquarters in the Gaza Strip were blockaded by protesters for two hours on Wednesday.
A number of Palestinians were protesting against what they described as UNRWA ‘minimising its services’.
‘The UNRWA building was closed for two hours, during which time UNRWA vehicles were barred from moving,’ an official in charge of the popular committee of refugees, Mueen Madares, said.
‘Today we began a warning strike and we allowed the cars to move after two hours after the beginning of the strike.
‘But tomorrow an escalating strike will begin and will be comprehensive to all of the main entrances of the UNRWA building so that the UN body will submit to the demands of the refugees that were approved by the UN and international bodies when UNRWA was founded.’
UNRWA began operations in 1950, having been created a year earlier to provide for Palestinians who had been displaced, largely by Jewish armed gangs, in the 1948 war.
• The Israeli army carried out an air drop into the town of Tallusa near to Nablus at dawn on Wednesday, locals said, and raided several homes in the village, arresting a father and his son.
Local residents accused the army of stealing gold and other valuables from homes.
Rabah Salahat, a resident of the village, said that soldiers stole gold belonging to his wife after raiding his home at 2.00am and ordering his family outside.
Soldiers damaged the contents of the house, smashed windows and stole the identity card of his wife, in addition to taking jewellery worth four thousand dinars, he said.
In a separate incident, Israeli aircraft carried out air drops and military drills at the entrance to Tubas in the northern West Bank, while military vehicles patrolled the streets in the Jenin district.
No arrests were reported.
Security sources said that Israeli military vehicles had raided Jenin, and the villages of Faqqua, Deir Abu Daef and Beit Qad.
An Israeli army spokesman said he was unaware of any detentions or unusual activity in the district.
Israeli forces also demolished a farm structure on Wednesday in the Az-Zbeidat village in the central Jordan Valley.
An Agricultural committee reported that an animal barn belonging to farmer Fayez Ahmad Ali was destroyed by soldiers.
The barn had been built along with ten others as part of a project implemented by the committee to support farmers in the Jordan Valley.
The cost of each barn was 1,372 euros.
The Union for Agricultural Work Committees denounced the demolition, saying that such actions are illegitimate and violate the basic civil rights of Palestinians.
The policy of demolishing structures in the Jordan Valley is part of a systematic campaign to expel Palestinians from the area, it added.
The demolished barn was built on February 23, 2010 in an area adjacent to the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Argaman.
The settlement has annexed more than 800 dunums of land belonging to Az-Zbeidat and the Tamoun Valley.
It is an agricultural and residential settlement.
Over 500,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israeli settlement building has been repeatedly condemned by the international community and is a major obstacle in the peace process.