Turkish air force plane
Photo: Noam Moskowitz
Passengers arrived in ambulances
Photo: Noam Moskowitz

Flotilla activists leave Israel

After long days on board flotilla, three days in Israeli hospital or prison, remaining activists to fly home in seven jets. Four Lebanese men also return home, where they are hailed as heroes

Three days after being arrested on board the Marmara ship, Turkish and Greek activists who tried to break the Gaza blockade flew back to their countries. Four Lebanese civilians were also returned, and hailed as heroes by a welcome party.


The first Turkish air force plane on Wednesday evening left Ben Gurion Airport with dozens of injured citizens, a Turkish source told the AFP news agency.


Two more military aircrafts, three Turkish Airlines commercial planes and a Greek aircraft then prepared to take off.


Wednesday's flights will complete the deportation of all the flotilla's passengers, after dozens of activists from some 35 countries were deported earlier Wednesday, and some 123 activists from Arab countries released to Jordan on Tuesday.


Four more activists were released to Lebanon via Rosh Hankira, despite an ongoing debate at the High Court of Justice. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered their release in an effort to minimize the damage done by the affair.


The men were hailed as heroes on Wednesday night at the border between Lebanon and Israel, according to AFP. 

Rosh Hanikra border crossing (Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yeshuv)


The four, Abbas Nasser and Andre Abi Khalil, a journalist and a cameraman for Al Jazeera, Hussein Suleiman Choukour, and Hani, who was injured during the Israeli raid, were greeted by rice thrown at them and flowers upon their arrival at Naqoura, after crossing the border.


Dozens of people cheered, waving Lebanese, Palestinian, and Turkish flags. Spokesmen for the president, the prime minister, and the speaker of parliament were present, as well as Hezbollah operatives.


"We hear a lot about Israeli savagery, but to see it closely, it's something else," Abbas Nasser told reporters, adding he saw "hundreds of soldiers armed to the teeth".


"I told the Israelis that they had killed my children," said Choukour Hussein, whose wife and children were killed in an Israeli raid in the Second Lebanon War.


Turkish airplane awaiting passengers (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)


Foreign journalists kept out of terminal

Some 20 lightly injured passengers arrived at the airport in Magen David Adom ambulances, where they were received by representatives of the Turkish Red Cross.


The injured activists were lifted onto a special army aircrafts equipped to fly wounded passengers. A number of seriously injured foreign citizens are still hospitalized and are slated to be released and flown back in a number of days. The nine bodies of those killed during the incident were put on board the Turkish Airlines flights.


Earlier on Wednesday, a few activists verbally attacked immigration officers and representatives of the Turkish consulate at the airport.


The Hundreds of activists were held at the passport control hall in Terminal 1. Security and police officers were deployed in force and prevented journalists from entering the terminal.


A Spanish broadcasting crew clashed with the guards, and one of the crewmembers made a rude gesture with his hands toward an Israeli flag placed in the area.


The activists' arrival at Ben Gurion airport was widely covered by the foreign media, and foreign cameramen managed to catch on film the activists making 'V' signs while entering the terminal. However security guards prevented them from entering the terminal, which angered many. One of the journalists was seen making an obscene gesture at an Israeli flag on the premises.


AFP and Hagai Einav contributed to this report


פרסום ראשון: 06.02.10, 22:42
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