/ 13 June 2010

Divers killed ‘were going to attack Israel’

At least four Palestinians were killed when Israeli navy commandos opened fire on what they said was a squad of militants in diving suits off the Gaza coast on Monday.

The Palestinians “were on their way to carry out an attack in Israel”, a military spokesperson said, declining to give further details.

But the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant offshoot of Fatah, said the men killed were members of its marine unit and had been training. One Palestinian was missing and there were no Israeli casualties.

The attack follows a week in which the Israeli navy has faced international criticism for its assault on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship in a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, in which nine activists were killed. An anonymous military official told Israel’s army radio: “This will be a shot in the arm for the commandos after the hard week they have been through.”

The incident was followed by an air strike on what the military spokesperson described as “terrorists trying to fire rockets into Israel” from the northern Gaza Strip. At least one Palestinian is believed to have been seriously injured. Israel also released a list of five passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara whom it accused of having links with al-Qaeda, Hamas and other militant organisations.

The Israeli Defence Force described Ken O’Keefe, who it said was both an American and a British citizen, as a “radical anti-Israel activist and operative of the Hamas terror organisation. He attempted to enter the Gaza Strip to form and train a commando unit for the Palestinian terror organisation,” the statement said.

The British foreign office said O’Keefe did not have British citizenship, but his website says he renounced his US citizenship on March 1 2001.

O’Keefe, due to be deported by Israel to Ireland, said the charges were ­”slanderous”.

The IDF said the other passengers with alleged terrorist links were Fatimah Mahmadi, a US resident; two Turkish citizens, Hassan Iynasi and Hussein Urosh; and a French citizen, Ahmad Ummimon.

Meanwhile, Israel plans to hold its own probe into its raid on the flotilla, which falls short of calls for an international inquiry into the commando operation that drew world condemnation. —