Israel plans to deport former U.S. lawmaker and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney and 20 other human rights activists who were aboard a relief boat seized by an Israeli naval ship Tuesday after it refused to stay away from an Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Authorities took the activists to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv where they await deportation, according to a news report in Israel.
McKinney, a longtime advocate for Palestinians, said her Greek-flagged boat, the Spirit of Humanity, was carrying medical supplies, cement, olive trees and children's toys to Gaza when it was intercepted by the Israeli navy.
"They simply kidnapped the passengers," FGM founding member Greta Berlin told Ynet news, an online publication based in Israel. "I call on the Israeli occupation forces to release our people immediately. It's funny. What are they going to do? Deport us? The last place we wanted to reach was Israel."
The Israeli military issued a statement Tuesday saying that the boat had attempted to break a blockade of Gaza and was forced to sail to an Israeli port after ignoring a radio message to stay out of Gaza waters.
The statement said navy personnel boarded the freighter Arion without any shots being fired, an those on board were to be handed over to immigration authorities. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was planning to free the crew and passengers.
"Nobody wants to the keep them here," he said. 'They will be released as soon as they are checked."
"Our government must take action to protect the right of American citizens to provide humanitarian relief to those suffering under an inhumane blockade," said Nihad Awad, the group's executive director. "We must not be complicit in the immoral and unjust siege placed on the people of Gaza."
It was the second time this year that Israel seized a relief boat carrying McKinney. In December, McKinney was among 16 people aboard a medical supply boat that collided with an Israeli naval ship as it tried to enter coastal waters around Gaza.