Thirteen female activists are heading home after being deported by Israel following their attempt to break the Gaza blockade, organizers said Friday, according to Anadolu Agency.
Those aboard the Zaytouna-Oliva, which set out for Gaza from Barcelona, Spain, in mid-September, included South African Olympian Leigh-Ann Naidoo, Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire and lawmakers from Algeria, Sweden and New Zealand.
The ship was intercepted by the Israeli navy on Wednesday and the women held until late Thursday and early Friday.
“In the course of their capture, the women insisted that Israel’s attack was illegal and that they were being taken against their will to Israel,” the organizers said in a statement. “While the captivity of the women on board Zaytouna-Oliva may soon be over, the captivity of 1.9 million Palestinian people in Gaza remains.”
The statement added that the mission had successfully raised awareness about the conditions in Gaza.
Head of the International Committee for Breaking the Siege on Gaza, Zaher Birawi, affirmed that Israeli authorities released al-Jazeera journalist and camerawoman who were aboard the Zaytouna boat.
Al-Jazeera journalist and camerawoman were released and received in Heathrow Airport in London after being detained along with 11 other passengers on board the Zaytouna-Oliva by Israeli Naval Forces, Birawi clarified.
All the detained activists are in good health condition and enjoy high spirits, al-Jazeera journalist Mina Harbalou said. The boat has been surrounded by the Israeli Navy before being redirected to the Israeli port city of Ashdod, she added.
Communication and camera-equipped devices were confiscated during the raid, according to Harbalou. Birawi hailed al-Jazeera’s important role in covering the Women’s Boat to Gaza.
The women’s legal team said the deportations were happening “much quicker” than usual with two having reached their home countries by late Thursday.
“We suspect that the reason for the quick release was because of all the negative media attention Israel has been receiving for its illegal interception,” legal adviser Wendy Goldsmith said.
Organizers added that Spain’s Foreign Ministry had contacted the Israeli embassy urging the government to “defend the principles of international law surrounding free navigation.”
For its part, Several Palestinian factions condemned Thursday Israel’s interception and seizure yesterday evening of the Zaytouna-Oliva, a Gaza-bound aid ship.
“We condemn the Israeli seizure of the Zaytouna-Oliva, which came to show solidarity with the Palestinian people,” Faisal Abu Shahla, a leading member of the Fatah movement, said at a press conference held in Gaza City by the National and Islamic Forces coalition.
Established during the second Palestinian intifada (2000-2005), the coalition includes Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions.
“The activists aboard the ship weren’t carrying weapons or guns — only hope for the Palestinian people,” Abu Shahla said.
He described the boat’s seizure on Wednesday evening as “blatant piracy”, going on to assert that the subsequent arrest of the activists on board by the Israeli authorities constituted a “violation of their rights”.
He added: “The boat’s seizure means Israel is insistent on maintaining its blockade of the Gaza Strip while the world remains silent.”
Abu Shahla also called on the international community to support the “humanitarian message borne by these activists by taking immediate action to lift the siege on Gaza and end the Israeli occupation”.
There have been several attempts by foreign activists to breach Israel’s nine-year blockade since the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish aid ship, was attacked by Israeli commandos in 2010, resulting in the deaths of 10 Turkish activists.
Gaza has faced a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade since 2007 that has deprived its almost 2 million inhabitants of most basic commodities including food, fuel, medicines and building materials.
In June, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the blockade as “collective punishment” that “suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts”.