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Israel deports Tunisia ex-president after halting Gaza flotilla

Fourteen flotilla passengers are still in custody after the Israeli navy captured their ship, which was headed to Gaza with humanitarian aid
File photo shows former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki

Israel deported Tunisian ex-president Moncef Marzouki and European parliament member Ana Miranda on Tuesday after they took part in a flotilla seeking to defy its Gaza blockade, an official said.

"The (former) president of Tunisia and the Spanish lawmaker flew this morning. There are another 14 who have begun the expulsion process," a spokeswoman for Israel's immigration authority told AFP.

Israel had on Monday commandeered the Swedish-flagged Marianne of Gothenburg, part of the so-called Freedom Flotilla III, and accompanied it to the port of Ashdod.

Sixteen foreign nationals were on board along with two Israelis, Palestinian member of the Knesset Basil Ghattas and a television reporter. The two Israelis have been released, though Ghattas could face a parliamentary hearing on whether he should face sanctions.

The Marianne was part of a four-boat flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists who had been seeking to reach the Gaza Strip to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid and to highlight the Israeli blockade of the territory that they called "inhumane and illegal".

According to passengers on the Marianne, at least one activist was hurt after an Israeli navy soldier used a taser on him.

The three other boats had turned back before the Marianne was boarded by the Israeli navy in an operation that took place without the deadly force that marred a raid to stop a similar bid in 2010.

Speaking after being released from brief police custody Monday night, Ghattas condemned Israel's "illegal" commandeering of the ship, which took place in international waters. 

"This is clearly pirate work," Ghattas told Middle East Eye late Monday. "We were kidnapped for 24 hours."

"In the end, we see the Freedom Flotilla III achieved its main goal - to draw local and global attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which is a result of Israel’s siege of the Strip," he said.

Ghattas said he believed the attempt and Israeli operation to stop it would spur "activists from around the world to bring flotilla after flotilla, until the blockade on Gaza is removed".

He said he was prepared to face possible sanctions by fellow Israeli Knesset members.

"They will attempt to take some privileges away from me,” he told MEE. “Perhaps remove me from a committee."

"But this was a calculated risk," Ghattas added, saying he expected such measures from the Knesset.

The activists' campaign came as Israel faced heavy international pressure over its actions in Gaza, with a UN report last week saying both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants may have committed war crimes during a 51-day war in the besieged coastal enclave last summer.

Over 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the war. There were 73 killed on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers.

Israel says the blockade is necessary to stop weapons from arriving in the Gaza Strip.

The reconstruction of thousands of homes destroyed during the fighting between Israel and Hamas, Gaza's Islamist de facto rulers, is largely yet to begin, and both Israel's blockade and a lack of support from international donors have been blamed.

In 2010, 10 Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara were killed in an Israeli raid on a six-ship flotilla.