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Four Lebanese flotilla passengers return home

‘Freedom Fleet’ members cross border at Naqoura
By Wassim Mroueh and Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Thursday, June 03, 2010

BEIRUT: Four Lebanese passengers of an aid fleet bound for Gaza were released by Israeli authorities on Wednesday.

Lebanese activists Hussein Shukor, Hani Sleiman and Al-Jazeera journalists Abbas Nasser and Andre Abou Khalil entered the Lebanese territories via the Naqoura border crossing.

On Sunday night, Israel’s navy stopped six ships dubbed “The Freedom Fleet” ferrying 700 people and 10,000 tons of supplies toward Gaza strip. A Turkish vessel was attacked by Israeli commandos, killing at least nine activists. The captured vessels were escorted into Israel’s port of Ashdod.

The passengers who came from different states are being deported by Israeli authorities. Six Lebanese passengers were aboard the “Freedom Fleet.”

Issam Zaatar, a carrier of a Lebanese-Belgian dual nationality, had left Israel for Brussels Tuesday morning.

Reports said Nabil Hallak, a Lebanese who holds an Irish passport will be deported by the Israeli authorities to Ireland.

Nasser, meanwhile, has been working for Al-Jazeera television since 2004.

The 34-year-old journalist has served in Al-Manar and Al-Alam TV stations along with Bahrain radio station.

As for 61-year-old Hani Sleiman, the lawyer was injured during the Israeli attack on the Turkish ship. He was also among the passengers of the “Lebanese Brotherhood” vessel that tried to break the Israeli siege on Gaza in February 2009.

The ship was held by the Israeli authorities and its passengers deported to their countries. Sleiman occupied senior posts in the Baath Party between 1966 and 1974 and has joined a number of associations. Sleiman is married and has three children.

Hussein Shukor lost his wife and four children when his home was hit by Israeli jets in 2006 summer Israeli war against Lebanon.

He also planned to join the “Lebanese Brotherhood” vessel but failed to do so.

Israel’s step drew waves of criticism from many states and international organizations.

Turkish Premier Tayyip Erdogan urged the immediate lifting of “the inhumane embargo on Gaza” on Tuesday.

“Israel’s behavior should definitely, definitely be punished,” Erdogan told a meeting of his parliamentary deputies, adding: “The time has come for the international community to say enough.”

Meanwhile, rallies protesting the Israeli storming of the “Freedom Fleet” continued in Beirut on Wednesday.

A sit-in was held by various Lebanese political parties along with Palestinian factions near the ESCWA headquarters in downtown Beirut.

The gathering was called by head of Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt.

The sit-in was attended by members of March 8 and March 14 camps, two rival political groups.

Participants in the sit-in decided to forward petitions conveying their united stance against the aggression to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Arab League Chief Amr Moussa and ambassadors of member states in the Security Council.

PSP official Sharif Fayyad outlined to the crowds the content of a petition that was handed to UN Media Center Director Bahaa Al-Qousi. The letter slammed “Israeli aggressiveness” calling it a “natural product of the racist Zionist culture.”

The demonstrators urged the Security Council to deter the ongoing Israeli aggression against civilians that “didn’t spare volunteers from different races trying to deliver aid to Palestinians besieged by Israel.”

They also called upon the Security Council to lift of the blockade on Gaza, impose sanctions on Israel and force it to pay compensations for the “humane and social” disasters it provoked.

Also, around 5,000 individuals gathered Wednesday afternoon near Fatima gate in the border village of Kfar- Kila protesting Israel’s aggression on Gaza’s aid fleet.

The Hizbullah-arranged gathering was attended by the party’s MP Ali Fayyad and Baaath Party MP Qassem Hashem along with a number of local figures.

Reports said the demonstrators remained near the Israeli-Lebanese borders until the Lebanese passengers were released.