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Two Al Jazeera journalists held by Israeli authorities

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the detention of two journalists employed by the Qatar-based satellite TV station Al Jazeera, who were aboard the "Spirit of Humanity", a ship carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, when it was intercepted by the Israeli navy on 30 June 2009.

"Othman Abufalah and Mansour Al-Abi were aboard the 'Spirit of Humanity' as journalists, not for activist reasons," Reporters Without Borders said. "They must be freed at once."

The ship, which was chartered by the Free Gaza human rights group, was boarded by the Israeli navy at 3 p.m. (local time) on 30 June as it was approaching Gaza's territorial waters and was escorted to the Israeli port of Ashdod (located just to the north of the Gaza Strip). All those aboard, including the two Al Jazeera journalists, were taken to a detention centre near Ben Gurion international airport.

"We expect them to be deported in the next few days, but we want a guarantee that everything aboard the ship will be returned to us," a Free Gaza activist told Reporters Without Borders.

The "Spirit of Humanity" left Cyprus on 29 June with 21 human rights activists from 11 countries aboard. They include Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, a co-winner of the Nobel peace prize in 1977, and former US Representative Cynthia McKinney. It was also carrying three tons of medical supplies, toys and material for the repair and rebuilding of 20 houses.

"The aim of this aid was to circumvent the blockade that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip since June 2007 and to symbolically help reconstruction in Gaza following the 22-day Israeli military operation in the territory," the Free Gaza activist told Reporters Without Borders.

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