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Gaza Blockade Activists Return to Turkey


Hundreds of activists deported from Israel after a failed attempt to breach the blockade on the Gaza strip have returned to Turkey. The activists received a warm reception on their pre-dawn arrival.

Around 1,000 people gathered at Istanbul's Ataturk airport to greet more than 500 returning activists. Thousands more celebrated and demonstrated against Israel in the heart of Istanbul.

The activists were greeted like heroes, and many could not wait to tell their stories to the waiting army of journalists.

"Twelve or 13 boats attacked us, along with four or five helicopters," one man said. " They just opened up fire on us. I heard the captain saying on the VHF radio we are unarmed."

Gaza Aid Activists Welcome video clip:

Observers say such stories are fueling Turkish public outrage over Israel's seizing the six ships.

The flotilla aimed to break a blockade that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip in an effort to stop weapons from reaching the region that is controlled by the militant Hamas movement. The six ships had defied a warning from the Israeli navy not to approach the region, and the ships were boarded early Monday by Israeli forces.

Nine activists died during the operation. Their bodies also arrived in Turkey and autopsies of the dead said all died of gunshot wounds.

Israel says its troops only used their pistols after they were attacked, and released a video showing soldiers in riot gear descending from a helicopter into a crowd of men with sticks and clubs. Three or four activists overpowered each soldier as he landed, beating each one to the deck.

One of the main organizers of the relief effort was the Turkish charity the Foundation for Humanitarian Relief, which has Islamic roots. Israel accuses the charity of having links to terrorism, a charge it denies.

Turkish prosecutors are reportedly collecting statements for a possible case against Israel. The two countries have, until recently, had close political and military ties and Turkey was widely seen as Israel's only friend in the region.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has held back from major diplomatic sanctions, other than recalling Turkey's ambassador. But Mr. Erdogan is facing increasing pressure to do more.

The Turkish Parliament passed a motion calling for a complete review of all political, economic and military ties with Israel. The country's powerful Islamic media, which traditionally supports the government, has called for severing ties.

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