Gaza aid flotilla activists, nine bodies arrive in Turkey

Hundreds of activists deported from Israel following a bloody raid by Israeli commandos on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla returned to a hero's welcome in Turkey early Thursday. Nine bodies were on the first plane.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arnc and several Turkish lawmakers welcomed them at the airport after Turkey pressured Israel to release the detainees, most of whom were Turkish. Others were from Arab countries, Europe and the United States.

"They faced barbarism and oppression but returned with pride," Arnç said.

The bodies of the nine activists killed by Israeli soldiers during the clash were flown to Turkey on a special plane. At least four of them have already been identified as Turkish nationals, AFP reported, but the spokesman was unable to give any details on the nationality of the others. Earlier Wednesday, Turkey began flying wounded activists home. The first aircraft landed at a military base near Ankara, bringing two men - a Turkish and an Irish national - who were seriously injured in the clashes.

Thousands of jubilant relatives and supporters, waving Palestinian and Turkish flags, burst into applause outside the airport, chanting "God is Great!" They later walked to the perimeters near the tarmac to see their loved ones.

Another crowd celebrated their return in downtown Istanbul. "Turkey is proud of you!" the crowd chanted as they shouted "Down with Israel!"

Three air ambulance planes carrying wounded activists had landed in Ankara earlier. They were bused to a medical center to undergo treatment, NTV television said.

The flotilla aimed to break a blockade Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007 and carry food and other supplies to the Palestinians who live there.

Seven planes were used to deport 527 activists to Turkey and Greece, Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said. Seven other activists remained in Israeli hospitals for treatment of wounds suffered during the Israeli raid, she said.

After the planes took off, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said three activists remained in detention over "documentation and other issues," without elaborating. The three were from Ireland, Australia and Italy.

About a dozen female activists scuffled with security officers at the airport but were quickly subdued by authorities, Israeli officials said. Officials said no charges would be filed and the women were deported as planned.

Families mourn

Meanwhile the families of four Turkish victims mourned in various provinces of the country. Photographs of brahim Bilgen, who was a mayoral candidate from the Saadet, or Felicity, Party in March 2009 local elections, were hung over busy streets in the eastern province of Siirt.

Cetin Topcuoglu, 54, died on the boat as well. Cumali Topcuoglu, the victim's brother, said in Adana that they were happy because their brother had become a "martyr."

Ali Haydar Bengi, father of four children also died aboard the ship. A condolence tent was erected in front of the Ulu Mosque in Diyarbakr for Bengi.

Cevdet Klclar, a member of HH, also reportedly died aboard.

The U.N., Europe and others harshly criticized Israel after its commandos stormed the six-ship flotilla in international waters, setting off the clashes. About 700 activists - including 400 Turks - were trying to break the Israeli and Egyptian naval blockade by bringing in 10,000 tons of aid.

[Source: Turkish Weekly, Ankara, 03Jun10]

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