JERUSALEM: Israel hopes to expel within 72 hours the 118 foreign, pro-Palestinian activists who were jailed over the weekend after being denied entry, officials said Sunday.
The timetable will depend on foreign airlines’ ability to fly the activists home, Interior Ministry official Sabine Haddad said.
"The point is to fly them all out as quickly as possible, not to hold them," she said.
The activists were among hundreds who had planned to fly to Israel over the weekend to display solidarity with the Palestinian fight for independence and protest Israeli travel restrictions to and from Palestinian territories.
Israel, its image tarnished in the past by deadly run-ins with foreign activists, tried to clip the wings of this protest, contending that some of the foreigners would engage in violence. It compiled a blacklist of 340 potential troublemakers beforehand and asked foreign airlines to block those people from landing in Tel Aviv.
Only 20 on the list arrived, Israeli officials said. But others who hadn’t been tagged beforehand did land, and of 400 foreigners taken aside for questioning, 130 were detained, Haddad said.
Eight of them have been sent home and four others granted entry after promising not to participate in violent activities, she said.
Some activists who were granted entry traveled to the West Bank, where, together with Palestinian demonstrators, cut through a section of Israel’s separation barrier with clippers. Another protester started a small brush fire.
Critics in Israel accused the government of overreacting to the perceived threat the foreign activists posed and creating an unnecessary hysteria around their arrival.
Israel’s success in hamstringing the fly-in protest coincided with the failure of other foreign activists to try to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Ships experienced mechanical problems and Greek officials barred them from setting sail for Gaza on the ground that violence could ensue.
An Israeli naval raid on a similar flotilla last year ended in the deaths of nine activists. Each side blamed the other for the violence.