Moment British Gaza activists are given a heroes’ welcome in Istanbul after they are kicked out of Israel

By MAIL FOREIGN SERVICE
Last updated at 10:51 AM on 3rd June 2010

Hundreds of activists from a Turkish-led aid flotilla were given a heroes’ welcome by thousands of cheering supporters as they arrived in Istanbul today.

Three Turkish planes carrying some 460 people from Tel Aviv to Turkey also held the wooden coffins of the nine killed when Israeli commandos stormed the ships heading for Gaza.

Their arrival was marred by Israel’s decision to drop plans to prosecute dozens of pro-Palestinian activists – reportedly sent to attack Israeli forces on the Mavi Marmara on Monday – involved blockade, opting instead to deport them.

Gaza

Gaza

Flight to safety: Activists – one draped in a British flag – flash the victory sign upon arrival at Ataturk airport

The deportees include about 50 of the nearly 700 who Israel said were apparently linked to the world jihad movement and possibly Al Qaeda.

Officials said the change was an attempt to control the damage to Israel’s relations with Turkey.

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Arriving at Ataturk airport today, Mustafa Ahmet, a British citizen of Turkish origin, said: ‘We’ve been scared, frightened, kidnapped and attacked with battleships while we were taking aid to needy people in Gaza.’

The majority of the 466 people aboard the planes were Turkish along with some British, Norwegian, Dutch and Spanish citizens.

The returnees were greeted by Turkish Deputy Premier Bulent Arinc and several other officials.

Heroes' welcome: Demonstrators greet Turkish activists at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey, today

Heroes’ welcome: Demonstrators greet Turkish activists at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey, today

Turkish journalists expelled from Israel wave as they land at Istanbul airporttoday

Turkish journalists expelled from Israel wave as they land at Istanbul airporttoday

The deportees include about 50 of the nearly 700 who Israel said were apparently linked to the world jihad movement and possibly Al Qaeda.

Officials said the change was an attempt to control the damage to Israel’s relations with Turkey.

Arriving at Ataturk airport today, Mustafa Ahmet, a British citizen of Turkish origin, said: ‘We’ve been scared, frightened, kidnapped and attacked with battleships while we were taking aid to needy people in Gaza.’

The majority of the 466 people aboard the planes were Turkish along with some British, Norwegian, Dutch and Spanish citizens.

Wounded: An injured activist is helped from the plane and taken to a hospital in Ankara, Turkey

Wounded: An injured activist is helped from the plane and taken to a hospital in Ankara, Turkey

Thousands of demonstrators gather on Taksim Square during a protest against Israel in Istanbul today

Thousands of demonstrators gather on Taksim Square during a protest against Israel in Istanbul today

The returnees were greeted by Turkish Deputy Premier Bulent Arinc and several other officials.

‘For now, diplomacy has succeeded, however, Israel will be asked within the framework of laws to pay for the murders it has committed,’ Arinc said.

‘We have all condemned this unfair, cruel and barbaric attack which was a total act of piracy.’

Several activists suggested the death toll was higher than nine, and accused the Israeli army of hiding bodies and destroying forensic evidence.

Turkish workers carry the coffins of activists killed when Israeli commandos stormed ships trying to take aid to Gaza, at Ataturk International airport in Istanbul today

Turkish workers carry the coffins of activists killed when Israeli commandos stormed ships trying to take aid to Gaza, at Ataturk International airport in Istanbul today

Israel says its commandos were attacked as they came aboard the Mavi Marmara – the cruise ship on which most of the violence occurred – forcing them to shoot in self-defence.

However, Bulent Yildirim, chairman of the IHH, the Turkish Islamic charity which organised the convoy, said: ‘The soldiers shot a doctor who wanted to surrender and they threw dead bodies into the sea. We still don’t know what happened to them.’

He claimed Israeli commandos had forced activists to kneel with their hands behind their backs after they stormed the flotilla, and helicopters circling overhead poured cold sea water onto them.

British Kevin Ovenden said a man who had pointed a camera at the soldiers was shot dead through the forehead.

Activists seized during a raid on an aid convoy sailing to Gaza flash victory signs upon arrival at Ataturk International airport in Istanbul today

Activists seized during a raid on an aid convoy sailing to Gaza flash victory signs upon arrival at Ataturk International airport in Istanbul today

Many of those waiting at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport carried Palestinian flags and bore slogans such as ‘murderer Israel’, while one group of protestors tore up an Israeli flag.

Hours earlier thousands had demonstrated in a central Istanbul square.

The injured were flown separately to a military airport in Ankara aboard two air ambulances.

The killings of Turks onboard the flotilla has brought the already strained relationship between the Jewish state and Turkey’s Islamist-leaning government close to breaking point.

Turkey recalled its ambassador and prime minister Tayyip Erdogan has called for Israel’s act to be ‘punished’.

Belgian activist Isnasni Kenza, centre, and British nationals arriving in Istanbul after being deported by Israel

Belgian activist Isnasni Kenza, centre, and British nationals arriving in Istanbul after being deported by Israel

Turkish lawmakers continued to express their outrage yesterday, calling on their government to review its political, military and economic ties with Israel.

The lawmakers also said Israel must formally apologise for the raid, compensate the victims and bring those responsible to justice.

Turkey’s NTV television says an initial forensic report concludes that the nine activists killed in the Israeli commando raid on the aid flotilla to Gaza died of gunshot wounds.

The station cites medical sources. It says the forensic report came after the bodies were examined at an Istanbul morgue today.

Officials from European consulates hold up placards with national flag as they wait for compatriots to arrive at Istanbul airport

Officials from European consulates hold up placards with national flag as they wait for compatriots to arrive at Istanbul airport

Authorities acted to limit the diplomatic damage as Israel faced increasingly severe international condemnation for the raid.

The outcry included accusations of war crimes and a decision by Nicaragua to break diplomatic relations with Israel over the raid.

Israel will not be prosecuting the activists as it is anxious to patch up ties with Ankara because it is the Jewish state’s most important Muslim ally.

Originally, Israel planned on detaining them in Israel while police looked into possible charges, but Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said in a statement that ‘keeping them here would do more damage to the country’s vital interests than good’.

Fury: Protesters shout slogans during an anti-Israeli protest in front of the Israeli embassy in Vienna, Austria today

Fury: Protesters shout slogans during an anti-Israeli protest in front of the Israeli embassy in Vienna, Austria today

International Middle East envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair called on Israel to ease the blockade and let more supplies in.

He called the blockade ‘counterproductive’, but said it would be hard to lift because of Israel’s objections.

In a bizarre twist, Israel unloaded supplies from the six boats commandeered during the raid and sent some of the goods toward Gaza, only to see the blockaded territory’s Hamas rulers refuse to accept them.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1283641/GAZA-AID-FLOTILLA-RAID-UK-activists-given-heroes-welcome-Istanbul.html#ixzz0pvejmwla

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