Spokesperson says Swedish writer safe and unhurt as German politician gives first-hand account of Mavi Marmara raid
The Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell is reported to be among hundreds of activists being held in Israeli custody following the storming of the Gaza aid flotilla, according to a spokesman for the foreign ministry in Stockholm.
The spokesman, Anders Joerle, said that Mankell was still considering whether he should be deported, which would mean being put on a plane at Ben Gurion airport and flown back to Stockholm, or face trial in Israel.
“I believe that Henning Mankell is now being held in custody,” said Joerle.
A spokesman for Mankell, whose novels about the police commissar Kurt Wallander have sold over 25m copies worldwide, said he could not confirm the reports but had received news that – contrary to initial accounts that the writer had been injured – the Swede was safe and unhurt.
“A lot of people are saying a lot of things, which are second and third hand,” said Robert Johnson. “All I can say is, although I haven’t heard directly from Henning himself, I can confirm he is safe and he hasn’t been hurt.”
Mankell is one of around 10 Swedish activists who were on board the Swedish ship, the Sofia. One of them is believed to have been injured, though not seriously, according to the foreign ministry.
The Stockholm radio station SR reported that four of the Swedes had decided to be put on trial rather than be deported and were now being held in the Beersheva prison in the Negev desert, along with around 480 other international activists. It reported that Mankell, 62, was not among them, as he had not yet decided what action to take and was therefore still being held in custody in the port city of Ashdod. Two other Swedes who were on board the ship have not been accounted for.
The German foreign ministry confirmed that six of a known 11 German citizens who were part of the flotilla were still missing.
Five activists, among them two politicians from the Links (left) party, Annette Groth and Inge Höger, and a former member of the party, Norman Paech, returned to Berlin this morning.
Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said he was relieved that five of the activists were home, but demanded “immediate consulate access” to the other six. He said the German embassy in Tel Aviv was trying to gather information on them.
At a press conference in Berlin this morning, Paech, 72, gave a vivid account of his experience, describing how he was awakened when Israeli soldiers stormed the Mavi Marmara ship he was on.
“When they started with their aggression I was still asleep in the saloon, but suddenly I heard absolutely striking explosions,” he said. “I hurried up and dressed myself and colleagues said to me ‘We’re under attack, the Israelis are here’. The aggression came from the sky, from helicopters from which soldiers came down by ropes. We waited in the fore room and saw them carrying an Israeli soldier who looked to me like he’d had a breakdown. Then the second and third came, but after these three injured soldiers then I saw a lot – maybe 10 – passengers who were severely hurt, injured, covered in blood. They were treated in the saloon next to me. One was so badly injured I am sure he must have died soon after. I didn’t even consider going upstairs as it was just too dangerous.”
He said the majority of the injured had been international activists.
“It was terrifying … it was a shock and awe strategy that they’d clearly been planning for a long time.”
Responding to the claims that the activists were armed, Paech, who was wrapped in an El Al airlines blanket, said: “I saw no arms whatsoever. There were only two men with short sticks, but no knives, iron rods, pistols or any real weapons. Throughout our planning of the mission we said: ‘No arms, no explosives’, we said we’d only resist politically, with normal means.”
He said ships other than the Mavi Marmara had not been nearly as badly affected, and their passengers had on the whole surrendered. But he said he was concerned for the whereabouts of an Australian camera team.
Six Italian citizens were also among the European activists on board the ships, and all of them were today believed to be being held in Israeli custody. Among them, according to the Italian foreign ministry, were a journalist and a singer.