JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Sunday expelled 36 foreign pro-Palestinian activists who were jailed over the weekend after being denied entry into the country, and said dozens of remaining detainees would be deported in the coming days.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said 13 Germans, 22 Belgians and a Spanish activist were placed on two flights Sunday.
The timetable for expelling the 82 remaining detainees will depend on foreign airlines' ability to fly the activists home, said Haddad, but Israel hoped to do so within two days. "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 en route to the West Bank over the weekend to display solidarity with the Palestinian quest for independence and protest Israeli travel restrictions to and from Palestinian territories.
Israel controls all access in and out of the West Bank, a territory captured in the 1967 Mideast war that the Palestinians claim as part of a future state.
Israel, its image tarnished in the past by deadly run-ins with foreign activists, tried to halt the protest before it ever took place, 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 some 130 were detained, Haddad said.
Eight of the activists were previously sent home and four others granted entry after promising not to participate in violent activities, she said.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked "our many friends around the world who helped us" by preventing activists on the Israeli blacklist from boarding flights to Tel Aviv.
"The provocation was foiled ... Israel will continue to frustrate provocations and attempts to break through our borders, whether by land, sea or air," Netanyahu said.
Some activists who were granted entry traveled to the West Bank, where, together with Palestinian demonstrators, they cut through a section of Israel's separation barrier with clippers.
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 last week 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 grounds 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. But Israel suffered widespread criticism over the bloodshed and was forced to ease its blockade of Gaza in response.