THE TÁNAISTE AND Minister for Foreign Affairs has defended his actions in dealing with the 14 Irish activists who are being held by Israeli authorities after they tried to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
His comments came as there was confusion over why two of the seven Irish activists who were due to fly home today missed their flight this afternoon.
All seven of these activists were due to be flown to London on a British Airways (BA) flight from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv this morning but missed that flight.
BA has told TheJournal.ie that it was informed by Israeli authorities that only two people were due to be carried on the flight, and not seven. The airline said:
We were due to carry two people at the request of the Israeli authorities on a flight from Tel Aviv this morning. The two people arrived very late and therefore missed their flight. We have a policy in place which limits the numbers of people being deported on any given flight.
TheJournal.ie understands that the reason the activists were late was because one of two convoys on its way to Ben Gurion airport arrived late and that this was the fault of the Israeli authorities.
The seven activists were then due to fly to London on Lufthansa flight leaving the same airport this afternoon but the Irish Ship to Gaza movement said in a statement that “only five of them departed, with two — Irish Ship to Gaza co-ordinator Fintan Lane and Limerick university lecturer Zoe Lawlor — being returned to Israeli custody.”
The reasons for Lane and Lawlor not being allowed departure are unclear. The five activists who did depart Israel are due to arrive in Dublin later tonight.
After the seven activists missed the British Airways flight this morning, the Department of Foreign Affairs lodged a complaint with Israeli authorities and urged for arrangements to be made to get the activists home as soon as possible.
The Irish Ship to Gaza movement claimed in a statement released this morning that the activists were taken to a holding cell and were ready to board a flight to London this morning “when at the last minute they were prevented from doing so by Israeli security forces and returned to Givon prison.”
In a statement, the Israeli embassy in Dublin said that British Airways had prevented all seven of the activists boarding a flight to Heathrow airport. However British Airways’ statement appears to contradict this.
Speaking in the Dáil earlier today, Eamon Gilmore said that diplomatic officials had visited the activists every day since they were detained by the Israeli Navy after attempting to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip while on board the MV Saoirse last week.
The pro-Palestinian activists say the blockade is illegal. Israel cites a UN report in maintaining that its blockade is legal because Hamas militants fire deadly rockets into Israel from Gaza.
The Tánaiste told the Dáil that he understood that the airline was “unwilling to board all seven” activists but said officials were investigating this. Responding, Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said that this explanation was “utterly derisory” and called for Gilmore to summon the Israeli ambassador to Ireland to a meeting “within the hour”.
Gilmore said he had already met the ambassador yesterday and had conveyed to him his “dissatisfaction” with the way in which the 14 Irish activists had been arrested and the length of time it was taking for them to be returned to Ireland.
The Israeli embassy earlier said the remaining seven are booked to leave Israel on an El Al flight tomorrow but it is not clear what will happen to the two activists who were did not depart this evening as was anticipated.