Paul McGeough, one of the two Fairfax journalists currently being detained by Israel, has indicated that he intends to fight Israel's attempts to deport him even if it means remaining in detention for several more weeks.
McGeough, The Sydney Morning Herald's chief foreign correspondent, has been detained alongside his colleague Kate Geraghty since Monday. They were initially held in the port city of Ashdod, before being transferred to a facility in Beersheba.
The Herald says that Israel has now initiated legal proceedings with a view to deporting them within days. The deportation attempt is being justified on the grounds that the journalists illegally sought to enter the blockade area around Gaza, as part of a flotilla organised by pro-Palestinian activists. The pair rejected an initial offer to be deported immediately in return for statements declaring that they had entered Israel illegally.
McGeough - who holds an Irish passport - told Australian and Irish consular officials that he would seek to challenge Israel's deportation proceedings. Deportation would prevent McGeough or Geraghty from entering the country again for another ten years.
Speaking to Fairfax's Middle East correspondent Jason Koutsoukis, an Irish official in Israel backed McGeough's intentions:
"As far as we are concerned they were abducted in international waters and brought here against their will.
"Our first concern is to make sure that all our nationals are OK. We then want to ensure that their legal rights are being properly observed. We will be challenging any moves to deport them."
Fairfax has still not been able to gain access to McGeough and Geraghty, having not been in contact since Monday morning. That afternoon, Israeli forces boarded the vessel from which they were reporting, the MV Samoud, and took them to Ashdod to be detained.
The Herald's editor Peter Fray indicated yesterday that he was troubled by the continued detention of the two journalists, saying that they were there to "bear witness" as activists tried to break the Israeli-led naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
"They had every right to do so," he said. "We ask that Israel respect their right: the right to do their job, the right of every journalist."
Four Australians are currently being held in detention in Israel, the Government confirmed yesterday. A fifth has been treated in hospital after sustaining a gunshot wound during clashes between pro-Palestinian activists from the flotilla and Israeli forces.
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