MPs silent on Israeli's arrest of activists

The Conservative government in Ottawa said it will work with Israel to speed the return of three Canadian activists seized in Monday's military seizure of the Gaza flotilla.
Canadian Rifat Audeh was detained in the military seizure of the Gaza flotilla. ((Submitted photo))

After Israel announced late Tuesday it would free all 680 foreign activists detained in the military seizure of the Gaza flotilla, the Conservative government in Ottawa said it would work with the Israelis to speed the return of three Canadian activists arrested in that group.

Two of the Canadians have been identified as Farooq Burney and Rifat Audeh.

However, the Conservative government stopped short of condemning the detentions, and refused to say whether it thought Israel's actions were in violation of international law.

The six ships were trying to break the three-year blockage of Gaza to deliver aid when they were raided by Israeli commandos early Monday.

At least nine people were killed, prompting international criticism and fresh calls to lift its blockade of Gaza. Israel has defended its military action and said the blockade is necessary for its security.

Junior foreign minister Peter Kent tried to explain to reporters why the Conservative government refused to demand the release of the three Canadian citizens detained in the raids.

"Canada doesn't believe a lot of noise is required in this instance," Kent said.

Instead, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told opposition MPs in question period that Canadian officials would check in on the detainees.

"The government obviously has full consular access," he said.

Miriam Ziv, Israel's ambassador to Canada, defended the seizures.

"We cannot allow any boat to enter Gaza because we cannot know what is smuggled in."

Arrests illegal, professor says

But international law doesn't support that position. Because the raids on those boats took place in international waters, not Israeli waters, they were illegal, as were the arrests that followed, said University of Ottawa law  professor Errol Mendes.

"This could not be described as legal," he said. "Certainly if the original act was in violation of international law, then the continued detention is in violation of international  law."

But no politician in Ottawa would go that far. No politician from any of the four parties in the House would venture to offer an opinion on the issue, even though Canadians were among those detained.

It's an indication, perhaps, of how sensitive the politics of the Middle East can be, even in Ottawa.