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Israel begins sending back detained activists

From Kevin Flower and Guy Azriel, CNN
Local Israeli activists who rallied in support of the 'Gaza flytilla' protesters were also arrested by Israeli police.
Local Israeli activists who rallied in support of the 'Gaza flytilla' protesters were also arrested by Israeli police.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu says the attempted pro-Palestinian incursions failed
  • Netanyahu says Israel will block future similar "provocations"
  • 36 detainees are being flown out Sunday, an interior ministry official says
  • Pro-Palestinian groups are trying to draw attention to Israeli border policies

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israel started sending home pro-Palestinian activists it detained while trying to enter the country last week, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that his government would block similar "provocations" in the future.

According to an interior ministry official, 36 of the detained activists were being taken to Ben Gurion airport on Sunday to board a flight to Europe.

The detainees were part of the 118 pro-Palestinian activists seized while attempting to enter Israel at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on Friday. Israel also convinced airlines to prevent another 200 from boarding Israel-bound planes from Europe.

A spokeswoman for Israel's interior ministry, Sabin Hadad, said earlier that the passengers were being detained in an Israeli jail and were expected to be deported.

"Immigration authorities have questioned all of the activists throughout the weekend on whether they are willing to commit not to breach Israeli law during their stay. Only four agreed to the conditions and were released to travel as they please," Hadad told CNN.

She said 80% of the activists were French passport holders with the remaining hailing from Germany, Belgium, Spain, Holland, Bulgaria and the United States.

Israel will continue to frustrate provocations and attempts to break through our borders, whether by land, sea or air
--Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Israel
  • Gaza
  • Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Mavi Marmara

Hundreds of activists, predominantly out of Europe, attempted to make their way to Israel in order to attend events and protests in the occupied West Bank aimed at expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The airport detentions followed failed attempts by pro-Palestinian activists to launch a second naval flotilla from Greece to the coasts of Gaza to break Israel's naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.

Heavy diplomatic pressure applied by Israel and the Greek government's refusal to allow Gaza-bound boats to leave the port have so far prevented the flotilla from setting sail.

"Last week, we stopped the defiant fly-in against the State of Israel," Netanyahu said at Sunday's Cabinet meeting.

"We acted methodically and successfully in a variety of spheres -- diplomacy, intelligence, public security, migration control and others, in order to frustrate this provocation. And indeed the provocation was foiled. The agents provocateurs who tried to enter the State of Israel, a considerable portion of them were stopped at their points of origin, some were stopped at Ben-Gurion International Airport and some, a minority, entered the State of Israel and were detained here."

Netanyahu added that "Israel will continue to frustrate provocations and attempts to break through our borders, whether by land, sea or air."

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, declared that the "the naval and the aerial flotillas have scattered like a cloud on a summer day."

Activists for "Welcome to Palestine," one of the groups organizing the so-called "flytilla" event, said they were trying to draw attention to what they claim are prejudicial Israeli border policies that force many international visitors coming to Palestinian areas to lie about their destinations.

Israel controls all border crossings into the Palestinian West Bank and does not allow Palestinians to operate an airport for security reasons.

"The idea was for them to come in and say, 'We are going to Palestine,' to change the discourse and what is required usually from a foreigner coming to Palestine," said Bethlehem-based event organizer Fahdi Tantan. "It is a basic right for them and for us Palestinians to receive our guests."

In May of 2010, the Mavi Marmara -- owned by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or IHH -- and five other ships were on their way to Gaza laden with humanitarian aid and about 700 activists from various countries when the Israeli soldiers boarded it. In clashes with Israeli navy commandos, nine people were killed.