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Israel bars pro-Palestinian activists

July 8, 2011 11:34 A.M. (Updated: July 9, 2011 2:36 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel refused entry to 69 people considered to be pro-Palestinian activists on Friday, with officials saying that most would be repatriated on the first available flights.

Immigration spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said that four people had already flown out of Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, and the remainder were in custody waiting to travel.

"They are from Spain, the Netherlands, many from France, Bulgaria, the United States, Germany," she told AFP. "Legally they have been refused entry, they are not in Israel."

Shortly after 9:00 pm [1800 GMT] prisons service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman told AFP that 34 of the 69 had been moved to a nearby prison pending deportation and the rest were still at the airport.

Hadad said that during Friday 310 people were questioned on suspicion of taking part in the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign, which some have called the "flytilla," in which up to 800 activists were to fly in on a peaceful mission to visit Palestinian families.

"Sixty-nine were refused entry, all the rest entered," Hadad said.

But Israeli authorities said they largely managed to preempt the campaign by foreign activists, most from France, who are demonstrating for the right of access to the West Bank.

Officials said that by notifying foreign airlines of ticket-holders who would not be admitted to Israel they prevented hundreds from boarding at their ports of departure.

Israeli police at Ben Gurion airport had deported two American women Friday morning, as airlines across Europe barred 300 passengers on an Israeli blacklist from flying, prompting demonstrations in Paris and Geneva airports.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said six Israelis had been arrested in the arrivals hall at Ben Gurion, which is open to the public.

Barred passengers were camped out in the Paris airport, and French authorities were holding three in detention, a French activist told Ma'an.

Activists told Ma'an that "at least 40" people had successfully boarded planes in Europe to participate in a week of activities in the West Bank, including theater trips and tree-planting.

Israel's main airport was swarmed by police Thursday night, as well as an Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs delegation set to welcome "real tourists" with flowers.

"Israel has given airlines a list of 342 unwanted people, warning them that they will be immediately turned back at the expense of the companies," Israeli immigration spokeswoman Sabine Hadad told AFP.

A French activist with the 'EuroPalestine' group told Ma'an that Mohammad Al-Amir, Petseyana Leddis and Adrian Rue, who were planning to travel to Ben Gurion airport, had been detained in Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport.

"Israel is dictating laws to France by barring its people from traveling," she said.

She added that the group of 300 activists are waiting "paralyzed" at the airport having being blocked from travel. "We are a very peaceful movement," she insisted.

At Roissy airport in France, at least nine activists were prevented from boarding a flight of Hungarian carrier Malev to Tel Aviv via Budapest.

Some 50 airline passengers describing themselves as "pro-Palestinian" were prevented from boarding a flight to Israel from Geneva airport on Friday, officials said, prompting flight delays.

In a statement, the organizers of the "flytilla" campaign condemned the Israeli pressure on airlines and threatened legal action.

"We call on all airline companies not to accept such provocative, blackmailing, and illegal actions by the Israeli government," it said.

"Visitors traveling between countries have rights under international law and bilateral travel agreements," it added. "Those who had reservations cancelled will exercise their right of protest including bringing legal cases in their own countries."

AFP contributed to this report
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