Mon, April 16, 2012
World > Middle East

Israel bars nearly 80 pro-Palestinian activists

2012-04-16 12:24:49 GMT2012-04-16 20:24:49(Beijing Time)

Pro-Palestinian activists are escorted onto a plane heading back to Belgium at Israel's Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv. Israel on Sunday barred 43 pro-Palestinian activists who had flown in for a "Welcome to Palestine" campaign as hundreds more would-be protesters were stranded at airports across Europe. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Israel has barred nearly 80 foreigners from flying into the country on grounds they were linked to a pro-Palestinian campaign, officials said on Monday, with 58 of them still awaiting deportation.

As of midnight, police at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv had detained 79 people, and by Monday morning, 21 people of them had been sent back to their port of origin, interior ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told AFP.

Of the 58 who had refused to leave voluntarily, two were being held in detention at the airport, while the other 56 were taken to a facility near Tel Aviv, she said.

Among those refusing deportation were 43 French nationals, eight Britons, two Italians, three Canadians, one Spanish national and one person from the United States.

All 79 activists would be barred from entering Israel for five years, Haddad said.

Hundreds of Israeli police had been deployed at the airport from Saturday night in a bid to prevent the arrival of a wave of foreigners taking part in the "Welcome to Palestine" fly-in campaign, also known as the "flytilla."

Organisers of the campaign, now in its third year, had been expecting to welcome up to 1,500 people, but Israel vowed to prevent them from entry, warning airlines they would be forced to foot the bill for the activists' immediate return home.

Most of Europe's main airlines quickly fell in line, cancelling the tickets of at least 300 Tel Aviv-bound passengers, and sparking angry protests in several European capitals.

According to Haaretz newspaper, over a third of the names presented to the airlines were added to the blacklist without any concrete evidence they were planning anything illegal.

Quoting a senior source familiar with the list, the paper said there was no evidence that 470 of the 1,200 names on it -- compiled by Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency -- were involved in "pro-Palestinian activities" or affiliated with the flytilla.

Police at the airport also arrested nine Israeli activists who had come to support the visitors.

Last year, around 800 people tried to join the campaign, with many blocked from flying by airlines. Another 120 were denied entry by Israel and deported.



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