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Gaza activists get hero's welcome in Istanbul

Video by Sonia DRIDI , Shona BHATTACHARYYA

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-06-03

Hundreds of activists detained after an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla were treated to a hero’s welcome in Istanbul early on Thursday, hours after Israel defended its blockade of the Palestinian enclave.

Greek activists flown home

35 activists, including three French nationals and one American, detained by Israel after its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla were flown to Athens on Thursday.

The four non-Greeks will be put up in hotels until they can return home, a foreign ministry source told AFP.
 

Cheering crowds on Thursday welcomed the return of 466 Gaza flotilla activists detained in Israel after their convoy was intercepted in a deadly raid on Monday. The bodies of nine activists killed in the operation were also flown back.

The planes arrived later than originally scheduled, landing around 2am in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport. FRANCE 24 correspondent Assia Shehab said the crowd of about 1,000 people, mostly family members of the repatriated activists, energetically waved Turkish and Palestinian flags.

As activists descended from the planes they lifted their arms in defiance and waved back at the crowds. But afterwards some were overcome with emotion and wept.

“The returning activists looked quite shocked,” said Shebab, who added that the returning detainees were immediately taken to a medical facility for health check-ups.

The majority of the plane’s passengers were Turkish, with some British, Norwegian, Dutch and Spanish citizens among them.

The head of controversial Turkish aid group Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), one of the main organisers of the doomed convoy, said that three members of the organisation are still missing.

outrage follows ship raid

According to our correspondent, while Turkey recalled its ambassador and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Israel should be "punished", Ankara is now trying to calm the population and diffuse rising antagonism towards Israel.

The Turkish government confirmed Thursday that eight Turks and a US national of Turkish origin were shot dead when Israeli commandos stormed the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, the ferry transporting most of the activists.

All the activists were shot dead, Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported, adding that forensic experts found bullet marks on all the bodies and determined that one was shot at close range.

The Israeli military says the commandos were forced to shoot in self-defence when activists clubbed and stabbed them.

The Turkish government called on Israel to promptly release all its nationals and to end its blockade of Gaza. The first request was honoured last night, Shebab said.

Israel dismisses international probe

Israel on Thursday dismissed calls for an international probe, a day after the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution setting up an independent international investigation into the raid.

Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman Ygal Palmor told AFP that several of the resolution's signatories like "Djibouti, Pakistan, Cuba or Saudi Arabia [were] in a bad position to present themselves as defenders of human rights, which they violate massively.”

Defending Israel's enforcement of its blockade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday it was vital for the country's security, as well as Europe’s.

In a televised address, a defiant Netanyahu said easing controls would put long-range Iranian missiles into the hands of the Palestinian enclave's Hamas rulers.

"Once again, Israel faces hypocrisy and a biased rush to judgment," the prime minister said in a rebuke to European and UN officials who condemned Israel’s deadly use of force and joined Turkey’s call to end the blockade of Gaza.

"The same countries that are criticising us today, should know that they could be targeted tomorrow," Netanyahu said, insisting the embargo would stay in place.

 

Date created : 2010-06-03

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