Israel has barred entry to nearly 80 pro-Palestinian activists on their way to a "Welcome to Palestine" protest. The country also circulated "no-fly" lists to stop would-be participants boarding flights.
Israel has denied entry to nearly 80 foreign nationals at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, blocking their entry to the country to participate in a planned pro-Palestinian solidarity demonstration in the West Bank, Israeli police said on Monday.
More than two-thirds of those currently detained are French nationals, according to spokeswoman Luba Samri. Overall, 51 French nationals, 11 Britons, six Italians, five Canadians, two Spanish nationals and three others from the United States, Switzerland and Portugal were being held.
Eighteen have already been deported while a further 60 who had refused to leave were transported to two facilities close to Tel Aviv.
Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said all those detained would be deported after questioning.
Israel said the activists, who arrived at the airport Saturday and are part of the "Welcome to Palestine" umbrella group, posed a threat to national security and that the "provocateurs" would not be allowed passage through the country to the West Bank.
"Why did they come to Israel, to the only real democracy in the Middle East? If they want to examine the issue of human rights, let them go to Syria," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Actions condemned as excessive
Nine left-wing Israeli activists were also detained at Ben Gurion Airport for carrying "Welcome to Palestine" banners.
Organizers condemned the actions as heavy-handed.
"We have shown that Israel pretends it is the only democracy in the Middle East," said Welcome to Palestine 2012 coordinator Abdul-Fatah Abu Srour.
Outside Israel, airlines cancelled the tickets of at least 300 passengers. At Brussels airport alone, around 100 French and Belgian nationals were prevented from boarding flights with Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa and Swiss Air.
Several hundred activists protested at airports serving several European cities, including Paris and Geneva. Israel had issued a "blacklist" to airlines of known activists who would be refused entry.
The action comes a week after Israel banned German writer Günter Grass from visiting the country because of a poem he published declaring Israel to be a threat to world peace.
sej/pfd (AP, AFP, DPA, Reuters)