Gaza aid workers 'face deportation'

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Aid workers whose ship was blocked from delivering relief supplies to Gaza are facing deportation from Israel.

The 11 passengers from Ireland and Malaysia on the MV Rachel Corrie cargo ship arrived Saturday evening in the port town of Ashdod after the ship was taken over by Israeli forces.

The military seized the 1,200-tonne boat at sea. No resistance was encountered and the aid workers were taken to a detention centre near Tel Aviv.

A source at the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Irish authorities were willing to offer them whatever assistance they could.

It was thought the activists would attempt to fight deportation, but Israeli officials said all passengers and crew had signed deportation papers and most were expected to leave the country later.

The seemingly bloodless action contrasted with a violent confrontation at sea earlier this week when Israeli forces blocked a Turkish aid vessel trying to reach the territory. Israeli commandos descended from helicopters and a clash with passengers left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead.

The Irish ship - named for an American college student crushed to death by a bulldozer in 2003 while protesting against Israeli house demolitions in Gaza - was carrying hundreds of tonnes of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement. It is unclear if some or all the supplies will be trucked by Israel to Gaza.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "I am glad that the interception of the Rachel Corrie has been resolved peacefully."

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been held across Britain and Ireland.

The stand-off has raised international pressure on Israel to lift the three-year-old blockade that has left the territory's 1.5 million residents facing deep poverty.