An image released by the Israel Defence Forces shows Israeli soldiers boarding the Irish vessel the MV ‘Saoirse’, which was carrying activists towards Gaza.
The remaining nine Irish citizens detained after they tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza over a week ago are due to return to Ireland today.
Five of the 14 flew into Dublin airport late yesterday after earlier failing to make a British Airways flight they were scheduled to travel on.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said today he had some concerns around aspects of the activists’ detention and said he would follow this up with the Israeli authorities once all 14 had returned to Ireland.
The Irish embassy in Tel Aviv yesterday lodged two “firm protests” with the Israeli authorities over the treatment of Irish activists who missed two planned flights due to what the Israelis claimed were security procedures.
The Israeli embassy claimed the airline took a decision not to allow all seven on board. “The reasons for this decision are unknown to us, and must be sought from British Airways,” a statement from the embassy said.
A spokesman for British Airways, however, said the airline was due to carry only two deportees at the request of the Israeli authorities. He said those two arrived at the aircraft too late to make the flight.
Arrangements were then made for all seven to travel on a Lufthansa flight later yesterday afternoon.
Irish diplomats present at the airport, including Ambassador Breifne O’Reilly, made repeated requests to be allowed accompany the activists to the aircraft but these were declined by the Israeli authorities.
In the end, all but two of the seven activists, campaign co-ordinator Fintan Lane and university lecturer Zoe Lawlor, were allowed board the Lufthansa aircraft.
The Israeli embassy refused to provide an explanation for why Mr Lane and Ms Lawlor were prevented from boarding the flight, saying it could not refer to “the events which took place at Ben Gurion airport this afternoon because it has to do with security matters.”
It also blamed the activists for their predicament.
“Since the whole \[flotilla] episode was a mere provocation, then it is obviously in the interest of the participants – and certainly not in the interest of Israel – to prolong it as much as they can,” the embassy said in a statement.
“We can only express our earnest hope that these people leave Israeli soil as quickly as possible.” The Irish Ship to Gaza campaign branded what transpired at the airport “bizarre and cruel” and Irish diplomats privately expressed frustration.
Mr Lane and Ms Lawlor eventually succeeded in boarding a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul yesterday evening and are expected home today.
The remaining seven activists, including Socialist MEP Paul Murphy flew out of Israel on an El Al flight today.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZbEawYPnkQ&feature=colike?]