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Israel deports 36 activists, 82 still held

July 10, 2011 4:13 P.M. (Updated: July 11, 2011 7:57 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel on Sunday deported 36 pro-Palestinian activists who were taken into custody after flying into Israel for protests over the weekend, an official said.

Two other activists were deported overnight, leaving 82 still in Israeli custody awaiting flights back to home.

"Now on their way to their flights are 36 people, 35 of them will leave on a Lufthansa flight and one person is going on an Alitalia flight," immigration service spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said.

Those being deported were 22 Belgians, 13 Germans and one Spaniard, Hadad said. Two other Belgians were sent home earlier.

Israel was hoping to deport the remainder, she said.

"We hope it will be possible to return them to their home countries in the next 48 hours. It will depend on what spaces are available on departing flights," she added.

The activists are currently being held in prisons in Beersheva in southern Israel and in Ramleh, near Tel Aviv.

Most of the activists being held are French, but nationals from the United States, Belgium, Bulgaria, Holland and Spain were also in detention.

The activists were taking part in the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign in which up to 800 activists planned to fly to Israel and head to the Palestinian territories on a peaceful mission to visit Palestinian families.

Israeli authorities mobilized diplomatic and security forces to try to head off the incoming activists.

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

Of those who managed to arrive, four activists from Germany and Holland were authorised to stay after giving a written commitment "not to provoke disorder" and "to avoid places of (Israeli-Palestinian) confrontation."

Israeli news website Ynet said on Saturday that around 50 European pro-Palestinian activists who managed to enter Israel despite the security procedures at Ben Gurion Airport had crossed into the West Bank.

The "Welcome to Palestine" campaign took place as a flotilla of ships trying to break a blockade on the Gaza Strip was prevented from leaving Greece.

The timing of the fly-in campaign led some to dub it a "flytilla," although organizers denied their mission was linked to the attempt to run the blockade.
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