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Lufthansa bars passengers en route to Palestine

April 13, 2012 11:44 P.M. (Updated: April 15, 2012 10:37 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Germany's national airline is canceling tickets of passengers who intend to visit the occupied West Bank, a group organizing a visit by foreigners said Friday.

Lufthansa canceled the tickets of dozens of people who are signed up to join the Welcome to Palestine week which begins Sunday, the group said in a statement.

"Passengers on Lufthansa flights have not committed any offense, and do not accept these mafia-methods, favored by governments complicit in the imprisonment of the Palestinian people," the group said.

"Therefore, with the support of many friends, they will appear as scheduled at their airports boarding this weekend, a reminder that the West Bank, nor the rest of Palestine, does not belong to Israel," they said.

"Lufthansa, like all airlines, is obliged by the principle of following the laws and guidelines on entry to the territory of countries to which it transports its passengers," a spokesman for the company told AFP.

"The Israeli authorities have written to several airlines including Lufthansa, and asked them not to fly certain passengers to Israel. Therefore, Lufthansa is obliged to follow this directive," he said.

The mayor of Bethlehem on Tuesday urged Israel not to humiliate hundreds of tourists invited to the week-long tour.

Some 25 organizations have invited internationals to visit Palestine from April 15-21 and Mayor Victor Batarseh urged Israel to let them enter and not to humiliate them.

"We demand our international friends have access to Bethlehem," the mayor said.

"It is our right to welcome visitors."

Israel's public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, said Tuesday that guests of the Welcome to Palestine initiative would be detained and deported, the Israeli news site Ynet reported.

"If they arrive in Israel they will be identified, removed from the plane, their entry into Israel will be prevented and they will be moved to a detention facility until they are flown out of Israel," Aharonovitch said.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told Ma'an on Wednesday that police were preparing for the visitors' arrival and implementing measures inside and outside the airport. He did not elaborate.

Palestinian organizations have arranged a week-long program, starting Sunday, which includes helping to build a school in Bethlehem and day trips to Hebron, the Jordan Valley, Ramallah and Jerusalem.

All visitors to the West Bank must first pass Israeli border control and many arriving in Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport do not tell Israeli security if they will be visiting Palestinian areas as this leads to interrogation and often deportation.

But the campaign has asked its guests to be open about their plans to visit the West Bank.
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