Israel deports Gaza activists

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Israel is deporting hundreds of foreign activists detained after the deadly raid on an aid flotilla trying to break its blockade of Gaza. Nine activists died when Israeli commandos boarded the convoy on Monday. Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed to continue the blockade and said lifting it would make the Hamas-controled territory a base for missile attacks. The BBC's Jon Donnison in Gaza describes the kind of aid the activists were trying to deliver.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Israel continues to reject international criticism of its raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza. Nine Pro-Palestinian activists were killed Monday during the Israeli commando operation. Today Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused critics of the raid of hypocrisy and he vowed to continue Israel's blockade of Gaza. Netanyahu said lifting it would make the Hamas-controlled territory a base for missile attacks. In a few minutes we'll hear how Israelis are reacting to the raid and its aftermath. First, we're going to focus on Gaza to hear more on the circumstances that prompted the aid flotilla. The BBC's John Donnison is in Gaza. He describes the kind of aid the activists were trying to deliver.

JOHN DONNISON: The vast majority of it, we understand, there was some 12,000 tons of aid on board these ships was construction materials and that's one of the things Israel doesn't really want to let, construction materials in, in particular, because it suspects Hamas will use them to rebuild for its own purposes. But the United Nations, who have a big operation in Gaza say frankly they are desperate for building materials to come in. They have not been able to complete many of their projects. Many of the buildings that were destroyed in last year's major conflict with Israel some 16 months ago have been cleared, but they simply haven't been rebuilt.

WERMAN: It sounds like what you're saying is that Israel has lots of loopholes for not letting supplies into Gaza, is that right?

DONNISON: It does. It actually has a list of things that it will not allow in and some of them are frankly quite bizarre.

WERMAN: Like what?

DONNISON: Coriander, the spice, not allowed in, considered a luxury item. Frozen salmon is allowed in apparently. I read quite an amusing piece in one of the papers here the other day. Someone, a Gazan bemused to see frozen salmon in the supermarket. He had apparently never heard of this fish before.

WERMAN: In the meantime, does that mean that Gazans, who are not affiliated with Hamas, or any kind of military activity, can't build or rebuild their houses that were destroyed?

DONNISON: Absolutely. And I think one of the things you often forget is like most countries, most ordinary people here have very little time for their politicians. Most Palestinians are absolutely fed up to the back teeth with the fact that there is no Palestinian unity. We have Hamas controlling the Gaza strip and we have their rivals, Fatah, controlling the West Bank. And in polling shows that the single most important thing for ordinary Palestinians is achieving Palestinian unity. So when you say the people of Gaza elected Hamas, well they did, but that doesn't mean ordinary Gazans back them in every decision they make.

WERMAN: So had this flotilla made to Gaza, how would the aid have been distributed? Is it a free for all or is it distributed by certain aid groups, or does Hamas take charge of it and hand it out?

DONNISON: Well that is a really important question because the best way for it to be distributed, arguably, would be for it to be handed to the United Nations who has a big operation in Gaza. The trouble with that is, I think Israel would argue that if it didn't want this aid coming in, it might not be happy for the United Nations to be involved in distributing it. It would see that as supporting the flotilla's actions. In that respect, it could therefore jeopardize any future aid coming in for the United Nations, so the U.N. would be in a difficult position. So you could end up with a situation where it was something of a free for all with aid not necessarily going to the people who needed it the most.

WERMAN: So, John, yesterday Egypt eased its blockade of Gaza after the assault. It's now opened up the border town crossing of Rafa. Are goods moving across now?

DONNISON: Well they are. Interestingly, a colleague of mine told me that when this initially happened yesterday, and this is a significant move because normally when Egypt opens its border crossing, normally when it opens it, it does so for a limited period. It says we're going to open it for one day, two days. This time it has done it indefinitely. But one of my colleagues in Gaza says he was speaking to people trying to get through that crossing yesterday and actually the Hamas officials on the Gaza side of the border said, well we're not working today, we're on strike in protest at the treatment of these people on board the flotilla. So actually there were long queues with the border not actually open as quickly as it should have been. But now I think it's fair to say that there is humanitarian aid coming through and people are being allowed to leave to go to Egypt to seek medical treatment. One of the things you see, in fact I saw just today coming into Gaza, is most of the people you see there leaving and it's very, very few because it is extremely difficult to leave, are in terrible medical conditions, bandaged up, a lot of children because these are the only people, really, who are allowed to leave Gaza to get medical treatment in Israel.

WERMAN: The BBC's John Donnison in Gaza, always good to speak, thank you John.

DONNISON: Pleasure.

WERMAN: By the way, Israel says it has 20 trucks loaded with the aid seized from the ship convoy. The Israelis claim they want to deliver the aid to Gaza, but they say Hamas won't let it in.