Court Frees Salah, 3 Others Involved in 'Peace Flotilla'

Islamic Movement Northern Branch leader Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, who was detained for participating in the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, yesterday accused Israeli commandos of trying to kill him and blasted Israel's leaders for committing "a war crime."

Salah and three other Israeli Arab figures who participated in the flotilla were released to house arrest yesterday and temporarily barred from leaving Israel, after three days in custody.

The four - Salah, Mohammed Zeidan, the head of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, Sheikh Hammad Abu Daabes, the head of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel and Free Gaza delegation leader Lubna Masarwa - received a heroes' welcome in Umm al-Fahm.

"The soldiers tried to kill me and fired at someone else, who they thought was me," Salah told the court earlier. Nine activists on that ship were killed when commandos dropped onto the vessel in an effort to divert it away from the Gaza Strip.

At the reception Salah said he and the other detained Arab Israeli leaders had been "abducted. This was a war crime. It's our right to defend ourselves and help the weak."

Praising the Turkish prime minister and activists who were on the ship, Salah promised "dozens of additional freedom flotillas to Gaza."

"We'll be really happy when the blockade is lifted from Gaza, the occupation ends and a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is established," he said.

The Arab leaders, who were released on NIS 150,000 bail, are to remain under house arrest for five days and are prohibited from leaving the country for 45 days. Police initially requested a 10-day house arrest and to forbid them to leave Israel for six months.

Zeidan said at the reception that participating in the flotilla was "not a crime but a first-rate humane message." The criminals are those who took over the ship, he said, calling on the Israeli public and media to stop the incitement against the Arab community in Israel.

Seven activists who were wounded in the ship's takeover are still hospitalized, two in serious condition and the rest suffering moderate injuries. A number of activists were released from hospital yesterday and deported to their countries of origin, after doctors said their condition had stabilized and enabled them to fly.