Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Israel Detains Peace Activist For Entering Gaza

By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz Correspondent and Reuters

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Police detain Israeli for entering Gaza in blockade-busting boat

August 26, 2008

Police on Tuesday detained an Israeli activist who had sailed to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to challenge Israel’s blockade of the coastal region.

They accused Jeff Halper, who also holds United States citizenship, of violating a ban on Israelis entering Gaza.

Halper was among 44 “Free Gaza” activists from 17 nations who sailed in two boats from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip on Saturday in defiance of the blockade.

He spent three days in the Gaza Strip before entering Israel through the Erez border crossing, where police detained him.

According to Halper, Israeli forces at the crossing initially told him that if he came with the boat, he should return the same way. However, he said, they allowed him to cross into Israel shortly afterward.

“He is being questioned at the police station in Sderot for entering the Gaza Strip in defiance of a military decree banning Israeli citizens from doing so,” Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Halper told Haaretz on Tuesday that he expected to be interrogated upon his return to Israel. He expressed satisfaction with his success in entering and leaving Gaza, and said he did not fear harassment by Israeli security forces.

Israel allowed the activists to sail to the Gaza Strip, the first foreigners to reach the territory by sea since travel restrictions were tightened after Hamas’s takeover more than a year ago, saying it wanted to avoid a public confrontation.

The activists brought with them a symbolic shipment of hearing aids.

They plan to sail back to Cyprus on Thursday and have vowed to take several Palestinians with them, including students prevented by Israel from leaving Gaza to study abroad.

As part of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that took effect in June, Israel has eased its blockade of the territory, allowing in more humanitarian goods and medical equipment.

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