British Columbia

Israelis to release Canadian: family

Family and friends of one of three Canadians detained after Israeli soldiers stormed an aid convoy off the Gaza coast say they've been told he'll be back home within days. But the identities and fates of the two other Canadians remained a mystery Tuesday.

Family and friends of one of three Canadians detained after Israeli soldiers stormed an aid convoy off the Gaza coast say they've been told he'll be back home within days.

But the identities and fates of the two other Canadians reportedly on the ship, which was attempting to challenge an Israeli blockade of Gaza, remained a mystery Tuesday.

Foreign Affairs said it was aware of three Canadian citizens who were taken into custody following the violent confrontation on a ship between pro-Palestinian activists and the Israeli military, which left nine people dead.

A department spokeswoman said consular officials were working with Israeli authorities to provide assistance to the trio, but the ministry did not release their names or further details.

The lack of information sparked questions on Parliament Hill, where opposition leaders urged Ottawa to bring those detained home as soon as possible.

But the only question friends and family of Victoria resident Kevin Neish were asking was what they're going to do when they're reunited with him.

Neish's daughter Jennifer said she was told her father would be deported from Israel within three days.

"I just got the call from the consulate saying they have seen Kevin Neish and he is alive and well and will be deported from Israel in the next 72 hours," she said in an email.

Neish's friend Anne Hansen said he'll be getting a big hug when he's back on Canadian soil.

"I wish I could be the first in line but I probably won't be," she said with a laugh.

Neish, a 53-year-old retired marine engineer, was aboard one of six vessels on a mission to carry humanitarian relief to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Hero's welcome planned

He was going to repair a well in a Palestinian community in Gaza but, on the ship, he was assigned to non-violently "defend" journalists in the event of a military boarding, gaining them enough time to file stories.

"It should be interesting, to say the least," he wrote late last month on the website Dialogue with Diversity.

Neish's brother Steve was relieved that his younger sibling would soon be home.

"I'm going to congratulate him on a job well done," he said in a telephone interview. "He's more aware of how bad the incident was and how terribly it turned out. He's more aware of that than anybody. I don't think we have to talk too much to him about that."

Neish's friend Zoe Blunt said he'll get "a hero's welcome."

A friend said Abbas Al Lawati, a graduate of Montreal's Concordia University, was also aboard one of the ships. Al Lawati, a journalist based in Dubai for the English-language Gulf News, had been reporting and blogging from the ship, his friend Laith Marouf said in Montreal.

The Gulf News reported Tuesday that Al Lawati, a native of Oman, was safe.

Al Lawati graduated from Concordia with a political science degree in 2005 but is not a Canadian citizen, his brother said Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the Free Gaza Movement, which was part of a coalition that organized the convoy, said Neish was the only Canadian in their contingent. He said, however, another group may have had Canadian members.

Raised in Commons

In Ottawa, New Democrat Leader Jack Layton asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House if the Canadians would be returned as soon as possible.

Harper reiterated that the government is providing consular assistance to those involved, but said little else.

"Well, we didn't get a great deal of information from the prime minister today," Layton said after question period. "That was somewhat disappointing and I hope they'll be more forthcoming because, naturally, we'd be concerned about three Canadians apparently in custody as a result of what took place in international waters, it would seem."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said: "I think it's important that Canada stands by these people and gets them home as soon as possible."

Peter Kent, minister of state for foreign affairs for the Americas, said it's possible there are more than three Canadians in Israeli custody.

"The number that we've heard is three but there are a number of detainees who are refusing to identify themselves or their nationality," he told reporters in Ottawa.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Ottawa on Monday when the raid took place. He met with Harper but cut short his visit and a planned trip to Washington in order to return home.

Israeli officials have said the soldiers were attacked with knives, clubs and live fire as they dropped onto the convoy but activists say the soldiers opened fire first.

Pro-Palestinian activists on Tuesday sent another boat to challenge Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip and Egypt announced it would temporarily open a crossing into Palestinian territory.