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Israel to secure airport ahead of flotilla activists' arrival

The Associated Press

Updated: Wed. Jul. 6 2011 9:36 AM ET

CTV News

JERUSALEM — Israeli police said Wednesday they would reinforce security at the country's already heavily fortified international airport before hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists arrive this week.

The activists, who said they did not plan to stir up trouble, were making last-minute preparations for their flights as another group of Palestinian supporters were being blocked from sailing toward the Gaza Strip in defiance of Israel's long-standing naval blockade of the territory.

Israeli officials say the activists, due to land on Friday at the Ben-Gurion International Airport, are coming spoiling for a fight. The protesters accuse Israel of distorting their message, insisting their activities would be peaceful.

The Israeli public security minister has called some of them "hooligans" and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a show of reviewing security agencies' plans at the airport before flying to Romania on Wednesday.

Central District police commander Bentzi Sao told Army Radio on Wednesday the airborne activists were expected to arrive on 50 flights from Europe between Thursday evening and Friday afternoon. He wouldn't discuss reports about efforts to block the activists from leaving Europe.

Sao said Israel would deny entry to suspected troublemakers at Ben-Gurion. He wouldn't say if Israel had a list of suspected provocateurs, but suggested some activists might be deported or jailed.

On Wednesday, passengers reported delays in entering the country, due to stepped-up security checks at Ben-Gurion. But police said flights were not affected.

The activists are taking part in a Palestinian program known as "Welcome to Palestine." Organizers say nearly 600 men, women and children have accepted their invitation to visit the West Bank for a week.

They say the purpose of the program is to show that men and women from all over the world are willing to spend a week of their time to show solidarity with Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

Israeli authorities, who have been apprised of the program's details, "know perfectly well that we are not coming 'to spread chaos at Tel Aviv airport," organizers said in a statement.

Sophia Deeg of Germany, a co-ordinator for the activists, said "most of them are families or elderly people who never were in Palestine" but wanted to draw attention to severe limitations on movement in and out of Palestinian territories.

Deeg said the activists flying into Israel were not working in concert with the flotilla activists, who hope to breach a sea blockade that Israel says is crucial to stopping weapons from reaching Gaza's violently anti-Israel Hamas rulers.

Greek authorities have blocked the flotilla from sailing from the Greek ports where they are docked and have arrested four people.

Athens, which has improved ties with Israel in recent years, said it issued the ban for security reasons, pointing to a similar blockade-busting effort last year that ended in the deaths of nine activists after Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish ship.

Israel has warned it would stop any attempt to try to breach the embargo.

After meeting with senior security officials at the airport Wednesday, Netanyahu issued a statement saying that "every country has a right to block the entry of provocateurs." At the same time, he said, officers were instructed to avoid "unnecessary confrontations."