Fate of Gaza flotilla passengers still unclear; security clampdown in Israel, OPT

Tuesday, 1 June, 2010 - 13:05
London, UK
PHR-Israel, PCATI, Adalah, Israeli press, other

More than 24 hours after a bloody seaborne attack on a flotilla bearing aid for Gaza, Israeli authorities have yet to release information regarding the numbers, status and condition of the flotilla’s passengers.

As of Tuesday morning, Israeli authorities continue to deny access and information on casualties and detainees to the consular representatives of many passengers, to relatives, and to lawyers and rights groups.

According to unconfirmed Israeli press sources, 679 passengers and crew from about forty different countries were on the ships attacked by the Israeli army early Monday morning. Some of the passengers were Palestinian citizens of Israel, including an Israeli Member of Knesset.

Israeli authorities have claimed that nine passengers were killed during the attack, although other reports quote higher numbers of deaths. The ships carrying the surviving passengers were captured and towed to Ashdod port, north of Gaza.

Today, although Israeli authorities have not provided official information to the public, the Ministry of Health told Israeli group Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) that 54 wounded passengers had been admitted to Israeli hospitals. Earlier, Israeli outlet Ynet reported that twelve of the injured people were in serious condition.

Rambam hospital in Haifa has confirmed it is still currently treating 6 wounded people and Barzilai hospital in Ashqelon still has 15, including people from Qatar, Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey and the United States. Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Hashomer reported 9 arrivals but refused to give details on the numbers still hospitalized on Tuesday.

Consular representatives of some countries have apparently been able to contact some of the wounded in Israeli hospitals.

Israeli press has also reported that 48 passengers have agreed to be returned immediately to their home countries, while 610 foreign citizens have been placed under administrative arrest prior to deportation and sent to ‘Ella’ detention facility in the south of Israel, near the town of Beer Sheva.

Israeli rights groups Adalah, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) appealed to the Israeli High Court of Justice on Monday, demanding disclosure of the names of people killed and injured on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla by the Israeli navy; the names and locations of those detained and their condition; and unrestricted access of lawyers, relatives and consular representatives to those arrested, detained or in hospital.

According to Adalah, refusal to provide this information violates the legal rights of detainees as well as breaching a legal duty to provide information on their location.

Palestinian and German human rights groups have also pointed out that the passengers were unlawfully captured in international waters and called for their immediate release.

Protests in Israel; restrictions in Israel and the West Bank

Palestinian citizens of Israel were among those arrested and interrogated on Monday, and a hearing is to take place on their cases today.

Rumours were reported on Monday of injuries to Arab citizens of Israel, and fear and anger were prevalent in their communities as Jewish-Israeli press and politicians condemned their participation in the flotilla.

One of the Arab passengers, Israeli Member of Knesset Haneen Zou’bi, was released today thanks to diplomatic immunity and gave a press conference in Israel. She called for an international commission of inquiry by the UN and said that the aim of the activists had been to break the siege, not to start a confrontation.

On the raid, she said that at 23:30 [21:30 GMT – JNews] the captain had been contacted by the navy from a group of four Israeli boats and asked to stop, to which he had answered that they were a Turkish boat and that its location was 130 miles from the coast. “At 04:15 [02:15 GMT] we saw …rubber dinghies and helicopters,” Said Zou’bi. “At 04:30 forces quickly boarded the ship. I heard no warning because the noise came mainly from the helicopters and boats. Within ten minutes there were already 3 corpses. The whole operation was one hour long.”

Protests and demonstrations were held by thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel in towns and villages around the country on Monday. Israeli police clashed with protesters in the towns of Umm el-Fahm, Nazareth and Haifa, as well as the Palestinian neighborhood of Issawiya in East Jerusalem. Israeli press has reported eighteen arrests.

The Arab community within Israel has declared a general strike today, and all businesses and schools are closed. Israeli police forces continue to be deployed throughout the country. Wadi Ara, a main highway in the north of Israel, was reportedly closed to traffic by police on Monday.

Jewish peace activists attempted to reach Ashdod Port to protest against the attack on Monday but were turned back by police. Hundreds of Jewish and Arab protesters demonstrated the same day in universities and outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, to express their outrage at the attack on the aid flotilla. On Tuesday, other students demonstrated in support of the Israeli army.

In the West Bank, all crossings were closed on Monday and new checkpoints were placed to further restrict freedom of movement within the occupied territory. Israeli press reported increase in troop numbers on many routes.

Practical information for relatives

For information regarding access to detainees and wounded, the International Committee of the Red Cross has opened a line for people from countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel: +972 3 5245286 (English, Russian, Hebrew).

There is also an information hotline on the wounded, operated by Israel’s emergency medical service, Magen David Adom, at +972 732630020

Hospitals to which passengers were sent include Rambam in Haifa (6), Sheba in Tel Hashomer (9), Hadassah Ein Karem in Jerusalem (4), Barzilai in Ashqelon (21) and Beilinson in Petah Tiqva (14).

According to the Israeli army, the issue of detainees is no longer under its responsibility but under the responsibility of the police, the Immigration Authority in the Ministry of Interior, and the Israel Prisons Service.

According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs situation room, relatives should contact their national representations in Israel.

This article may be reproduced on condition that JNews is cited as its source

Photo by Xinhua

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