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Israel: Seized aid ship's passengers being deported

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Blair: Gazans must have hope
  • NEW: Tony Blair says Israel has right to defend itself but Gazans must have hope
  • Passengers aboard seized ship being deported Sunday
  • Seven were deported into Jordan along with person aboard another ship
  • Nine Turkish citizens killed Monday after violence on ship carrying aid to Gaza

Ashdod, Israel (CNN) -- All 19 passengers and crew members of the Rachel Corrie have signed deportation papers and will leave the country Sunday, an Israeli interior ministry spokesman said.

Seven were deported into Jordan on Sunday, along with one person who was injured in the Israeli seizure of another ship trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

The Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla, said it had not been able to speak to anyone who had been aboard the Rachel Corrie.

Spokeswoman Greta Berlin said Israeli authorities had taken their phones away. Israeli authorities did not immediately comment on the claim.

The cargo ship Rachel Corrie, loaded with humanitarian aid, had been heading for Palestinian-controlled Gaza on Saturday when naval commandos seized it -- the second such shipment to be blocked in recent days.

If (Gazans) become completely isolated ... the danger is that extremism grows.
--International envoy Tony Blair
  • Israel
  • Gaza

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now an international envoy for the Middle East conflict, said Israel has "a complete right and indeed a duty to protect itself against weapons or arms or other material that can be used for destructive purposes."

But, he said, Israel had to "distinguish between that and checking the material that comes in."

The international community has to ensure that the people of Gaza have hope, help and "some prospect for the future," he said.

"If they become completely isolated ... the danger is that extremism grows," he said on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS."

Asked directly if the blockade of Gaza should end, he said, "everyone" is calling for "a change in policy there."

Saturday's Israeli seizure of the Rachel Corrie had a peaceful ending, and Israeli officials said they expected the deportation process to go smoothly.

"I don't think any of these people will resist deportation," Palmor said Saturday. "The scenario is either you agree to be deported or you claim that you have a right to stay. I don't believe any of these people will petition a judge to allow them to stay. They did not show any resistance on the boat."

The Israeli military said it boarded the Irish-owned MV Rachel Corrie by sea with the compliance of the crew, 35 kilometers (22 miles) off the Gaza coast.

Video: Israeli forces board Gaza aid boat
Video: Protest in London over blockade
Video: Israeli forces seize aid boat

The group on board included six Malysians, one Cuban, one Briton, six Filipino nationals and five Irish nationals, according to Israel's interior ministry.

Those deported on Sunday included all the Malaysians and the Cuban. An Indonesian who was injured in the storming of the Mavi Marmara was also in the group.

The seizure of the Rachel Corrie contrasted with drama in international waters on Monday, when nine Turkish citizens were killed after violence erupted on the Mavi Marmara, one of six ships in a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Q&A: Aid and Israel's Gaza blockade

A number of other people were wounded.

Israel said the passengers initiated the attack; the passengers blamed the troops.

That incident drew widespread condemnation and cast a spotlight on the dynamics of the Gaza crisis.

Israel said its naval blockade is in place to stop weaponry from reaching militants in Gaza intent on attacking Israel. But many people are incensed that the three-year blockade -- imposed after Hamas took over Gaza -- has deepened poverty in the Palestinian territory.

According to the United Nations, 80 percent of Gaza's population depends on food aid.

The voyage of the Rachel Corrie on the heels of the raid put the international community on edge until the events unfolded peacefully on Saturday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel "used the exact same procedure" aboard the Rachel Corrie as it did on the Mavi Marmara.

At the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu said the group aboard the Mavi Marmara was primed for a fight with the Israeli military.

"According to the information currently in our possession, this group boarded separately in a different city, organized separately, equipped itself separately and went on deck under different procedures," he said. "In effect, they underwent no checks. The clear intent of this hostile group was to initiate a violent clash with IDF soldiers."

Free Gaza Movement spokeswoman Mary Hughes sharply criticized Israel's seizure of the ship.

"This is unacceptable to be happening in international waters," she said.

Reflecting the sentiment of many across the world, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was pleased the incident was "resolved peacefully," but he renewed his stance that Israel needs to lift its closure of Gaza.

The Free Gaza Movement, which owns the vessel, said the ship was carrying 550 tons of cement to help rebuild schools, homes and other buildings destroyed in Gaza.

Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, who was aboard the ship, said Friday that the Rachel Corrie was also carrying "tons" of writing materials donated by Norway, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment -- including wheelchairs donated by Scotland -- and toys.

As for the Monday violence, it continues to spark official and grassroots rage in governments and streets inside and outside the Middle East and led to even further deterioration between Israel and Turkey, the one-time close allies who have grown apart over the Gaza crisis.

In Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, thousands took to the streets to protest Israel's actions in Gaza. Protests were also staged in London, England and Paris, France.

At the United Nations, the Security Council called for an inquiry into the flotilla raid and the Human Rights Council voted for a probe, but Israel said it alone -- and not an international entity -- should be investigating.

The Israel Defense Forces military advocate general said Israel's interception of the flotilla was legal because international law allows a country to stop a vessel in international waters if it attempts to breach a naval blockade -- even before such a blockade is breached.

The MV Rachel Corrie was named for a 23-year-old American woman who was killed in Gaza in 2003 while attempting to keep the Israeli military from bulldozing the home of a Palestinian.

CNN's Guy Azriel, Bharati Naik, Richard Allen Greene, Matthew Chance, Paula Hancocks, Paul Colsey and Ivan Watson contributed to this report.