Pro-Palestinian Israeli activists hold signs during a protest at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv
Pro-Palestinian Israeli activists hold signs during a protest at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

Israeli police have confirmed that an estimated 200 pro-Palestinian activists were kept from boarding flights to Israel overnight and no incidents were reported at Ben-Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv, Israel police said yesterday.

A statement from the public security ministry quoted regional police chief Benzi Sau saying that in a joint operation by police, the foreign ministry and transport officials "prevented the departure of hundreds of activists at their points of departure for Israel."

"Public Security Minister (Yitzhak) Aharonovitch instructed that ... forces continue to deploy so as to be able to deal with incoming flights this afternoon, including the prevention of disturbances, while exercising the necessary sensitivity," it added.

Earlier, immigration spokeswoman Sabine Hadad told AFP: "Israel has given airlines a list of 342 unwanted people, warning them that they will be immediately turned back at the expense of the companies."

Following the warning, "the companies have already refused to take on board around 200 of these passengers," she said, adding that two US activists who arrived were sent back to the United States.

Referring to the 20 from Switzerland, police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP: "They were questioned and didn't pass the questioning."

She added: "They are being detained at the moment and will probably be sent back where they came from."

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said six Israelis had been arrested in the arrivals hall, which is open to the public.

"Six left-wing activists were arrested at the airport after causing a disturbance in the terminal," he told AFP. "They arrived from inside Israel, they didn't come off the planes."

Apart from deploying police in and around Ben Gurion Airport, the main Israeli tactic was to discourage airlines from allowing them to board at their points of departure.

Some 50 airline passengers who described themselves as "pro-Palestinian" were prevented from embarking on a flight to Israel from Geneva airport on Friday, officials said.

Several people belonging to a French group of pro-Palestinians had tried to get past airport security doors, resulting in authorities temporarily shutting down boarding areas.

At Roissy airport in France, at least nine activists were prevented from boarding a flight and Austrian Airlines said on Friday it had prevented a passenger at Vienna airport from boarding a flight to Tel Aviv, following a request by the Israeli authorities.

In a statement, the organisers of the "flytilla" campaign condemned the Israeli pressure on airlines and threatened legal action.

"We call on all airline companies not to accept such provocative, blackmailing, and illegal actions by the Israeli government," it said.

"Visitors travelling between countries have rights under international law and bilateral travel agreements," it added."Those who had reservations cancelled will exercise their right of protest including bringing legal cases in their own countries."

In order to stop pro-Palestinian activists from holding potential protest, Israel supplied foreign airport authorities and airlines with lists of activists after receiving reports some were planning protest actions at Ben-Gurion.

Officials at Israel's international airport have also said they deported two pro-Palestinian activists and added that the security forces remain on alert as hundreds of others activist will still attempt to reach Palestine to protest against travel restrictions on Palestinians.

Israeli Foreign Ministry official Oded Ben-Hur said the two activists, who are American citizens, flew from Greece and landed overnight Thursday but were promptly deported.

Israel is a gateway for foreign visitors to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which can also be reached through Jordan.

''Every country has the basic right to stop the entry into its territory of provocateurs,'' Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on a visit to Bulgaria. Mr Netanyahu had inspected preparations at the airport before departing on a diplomatic swing through eastern Europe.

The pro-Palestinians activists, whose action has been described as an ''air flotilla'', comes as the Greek authorities' are still detaining a group of boats planning to challenge Israel's sea blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Efforts to send a similar flotilla to Gaza last year ended in violence when Israeli commandos dropped from helicopters on to one of the ships that refused to stop and opened fire when they came under attack from those on board, resulting in the death of nine Turks. Israel was widely criticised for its use of violence by many rights groups, activists and politicians.