2 Canadians linked to Gaza flotilla released

Two Canadians linked to a flotilla seeking to leave Greece for the Gaza Strip were arrested by authorities and then released.

Australian also arrested after the Tahrir with about 30 Canadians left Greece

Two Canadians linked to a flotilla seeking to leave Greece for the Gaza Strip were arrested by authorities and then released.

Greek authorities had arrested Soha Kneen, 40, of Ottawa and Sandra Ruch, 50, of Toronto, along with an Australian man identified as Michael Coleman.

"They have not been cleared. There are still charges pending against them," Ehab Lotayef, a Montreal-based spokesman for the ship, told The Canadian Press.

Lotayef said Kneen and Coleman were in their kayaks "cheering the boat as it was leaving." He said the Greece coast guard "arrested them because they said they were in their way as they tried to chase the boat."

Dylan Penner of Ottawa, who is on board the Tahrir, described Ruch as the "Jewish-Canadian owner" of the Tahrir.

The activists used their Twitter feed to say that Kneen and Coleman received suspended sentences.

Ruch was charged with not stopping the boat from leaving port, and was released on bail until a Wednesday court appearance, according to the group's Twitter message.

Activists claimed the Greek Coast Guard earlier damaged the Canadian ship by ramming it against a cement pier after forcing it back to shore.

The Tahrir, bearing at least 30 Canadians, left Greece on Monday evening local time and was boarded 15 minutes later by armed officers from the Greek Coast Guard.

In a phone interview Monday, activist Dylan Penner told CBC News that two coast guard officers had boarded the ship.

Penner said one officer had a pistol drawn as he stepped over him to get to the Tahrir's wheelhouse and take control of the vessel.  

Penner said that to his knowledge, there had been no injuries. However, he called the ship seizure "illegal and a violation of our human rights."

Confined to port

Greece last week banned all boats participating in the Gaza flotilla from leaving port, citing security concerns after a similar flotilla last year was raided by Israeli forces, leaving nine activists on a Turkish boat dead. The Greek Foreign Ministry has offered to deliver the humanitarian aid the activists want to take to Gaza.

The Tahrir was one of several vessels aiming to breach Israel's sea blockade of the Gaza Strip in an attempt to deliver aid.

Activists first believed the ship was sinking due to the hard landing. While it appeared the damaged ship would stay afloat, it remained confined to a Greek port late Monday after an unsuccessful attempt to reach Gaza.

Within an hour, the ship was back at another Greek port, where supporters of its mission were gathering.

"They arrived back to land into a location ... where the coast guard forced them to go to. Not the original dock," Lotayef said. "They slammed it into the concrete, into the pier-side."

Lotayef said several dozen activist passengers remained late Monday on board the ship, which was damaged and leaking diesel.

"We are holding the Greeks responsible for all that — totally unjustified action by the Greek government, arm-twisted by the Israelis," he said.

"It is a setback but it's not the end of the road. The efforts will continue worldwide until this blockade ends."

No one on board was believed to be injured, and no shots were fired, but the Greek Coast Guard blasted a water cannon at the ship as it left port, said Penner.

'It's certainly shameful'

Canadian activists called on Ottawa to denounce what they view as an unlawful act by the Greek government.

"This is a peaceful international mission to break Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza which, it is now crystal clear, has been extended to the ports of Greece," Penner said.

"I wouldn't say it's a surprise, but it's certainly shameful. We have every right to bring the aid we are attempting to bring to Gaza to break the siege."

In related news on Tuesday, French pro-Palestinian activists said in Paris that one small boat was in international waters and on its way.

Jean-Claude Lefort, a spokesman for the group, told The Associated Press the Dignite-Al Karama left a port near Athens early Monday with eight activists and two crew members on board. If true, it would be the first flotilla boat to leave Greece.

However, the claim could not be confirmed. Greek authorities said they were looking into the report.

Greek activist Dimitris Plionis said during a news conference in Athens that the boat had been in a "safe" area "in this part of the Mediterranean." He said it was not sailing to Gaza at the moment, but was waiting for other boats from the flotilla to join it.

The captain of another boat in the flotilla, the Audacity of Hope, appeared in court in Piraeus on Tuesday to give a deposition after being arrested over the weekend for setting sail in defiance of the Greek ban.

John Klusmire was led into the building in handcuffs, holding a bottle of water and escorted by police.

"It's a terrible, terrible thing that the government of Greece has done. We are here in support of the captain, an honourable man and a professional sea captain," said one campaigner, retired U.S. army colonel Ann Wright, at the courthouse. "It is terrible that they feel they had to keep him in jail."

With files from CBC News, The Associated Press