Islamic Movement Chief Involved in Gaza Flotilla Released to House Arrest, Barred From Leaving Israel

Court frees Sheikh Raed Salah and three other Israeli Arab leaders over their alleged role in clashes with Israel Navy; Salah: Israeli commandos tried to kill me.

Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Raed Salah was released to house arrest on Thursday and temporarily barred from leaving Israel, three days after he was detained for his alleged role in the clashes that erupted during the Israel Navy's raid of a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla.

Salah and three other senior members of the Israeli Arab sector who participated in the flotilla were released on NIS 150,000 bail. They are to remain under house arrest for five days and will be prevented from exiting the country for 45 days. Police had initially requested a 10-day house arrest and to block them from leaving Israel for six months.

Salah, who heads the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, told the court prior to his release that the Israel Navy commandos who stormed the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara had deliberately tried to kill him. Nine of the activists on that ship were killed when commandos dropped onto the vessel in effort to divert it away from the Gaza Strip.

"The soldiers tried to kill me," said Salah just before his release from police custody on Thursday. "They shot in the direction of someone they thought was me."

Shortly after news broke out on Monday regarding the bloodshed on the Gaza-bound ship, rumors broke that Salah had been killed in the operation. Police feared that if the rumors were true, it would spark a violent retaliation from within the Israeli Arab sector.

"I am ready to die for God," Salah told the court.

Salah was released along with the three other senior members of the Israeli Arab sector who were arrested for their participation in the flotilla - Mohammed Zeidan, the head of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee and Sheikh Hammad Abu Daabes, the head of the Southern Wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and Free Gaza delegation leader Lubna Masarwa.

The court had initially agreed to extend their remand by eight days. On Wednesday, however, the Muslim leaders' team of nine legal attorneys said that Israel had no right to arrest them for their actions in international waters and fervently denied any of the allegations against them.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee declared a general strike in Israel's Arab sector on Tuesday to protest the flotilla clashes, an unusual step that the group has tried to avoid in recent years.

The committee held an emergency meeting at its Nazareth offices, including the heads of all the country's Arab political groups and parties.
In addition to the strike, the committee also announced that protest marches and rallies would be held in Arab communities, and called on the international community to investigate the circumstances behind the flotilla's interception.

The Arab leadership also called on the international community to try the prime minister and the defense minister for violating international law.
The committee described the clashes as "state-sponsored terrorism and piracy that requires those responsible to be tried."

Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement's northern branch
Tess Scheflan