Four Welsh Palestine activists 'detained' in Israel

Fiona Williams
Image caption Fiona Williams flew from Luton Airport to Israel on Friday

Four protesters from Wales are among a dozen UK activists detained as part of a so-called "flytilla" protest in Israel, according to organisers.

Fiona Williams, 46, from Mumbles, flew from Luton on Friday with a fellow member of the Swansea Palestine group.

Ms Williams' partner John McLean said the women were detained on leaving the flight at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel.

News agencies report that Israel is set to expel 124 activists, mostly European, who were part of the protest.

The "flytilla" - in which protesters say they were planning to make a peaceful visit to families in the West Bank - was taking place as a flotilla of ships was prevented by Greece from sailing to the Gaza Strip in a bid to break the Israeli blockade on the Palestinian territory.

Mr McLean said this was the first time that Ms Williams, who works for Swansea council, had taken part in such a protest, but added she was a determined supporter of the Palestinian cause.

"Fiona has never been there before so we were all quite surprised she was picked out," he said.

"At 11 o'clock last night we got this news, and they were probably being detained for the weekend and deported at the earliest opportunity.

"They refused to be deported, that's their stance at the moment, because there's no grounds for it."

Mr McLean said Ms Williams had travelled with a fellow member of the Swansea group, who was originally from Ireland, and he had been getting updates from the Irish Embassy.

He said he had not spoken to her directly but understood she was fine.

Paul O'Connor, of the Swansea Palestine group, said he had spoken to the Swansea women on Friday and they were in good spirits.

Image caption Some Israeli protesters gathered to welcome the activists who had flown into Ben Gurion Airport

"The latest we have heard from the [Irish] embassy is that they're being held at the airport," he said.

"There's about 30-odd others with them.

"They're going to be held and deported on Sunday night and Monday."

Palestinian civil society organisations who make up Welcome to Palestine expected 600 to 1,000 foreign activists to take up their invitation to head to the West Bank for a week.

They say they have planned a full itinerary of peaceful activities, starting with events in Bethlehem and Ramallah on Saturday for those able to make it there.

Palestinians have no airport of their own and Israel controls the borders of the occupied West Bank.

Israeli officials said on Friday airlines blocked some 200 blacklisted travellers from flying to Tel Aviv.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered authorities to "act with determination, while trying to avoid unnecessary friction" with anyone taking part in a provocation, a statement from his office said.

The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which is coordinating the British part of the protest, said there 12 detainees from the UK.

'Watching developments'

These included three others from Wales, who it named as Ms Williams's Swansea colleague D Murphy, 56, founder member of Swansea Palestine Community Link; Pippa Bartolotti, 57, deputy leader of the Wales Green Party, and Joyce Giblin, from Newport.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We have received reports of a number of British nationals being detained today at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.

"We have a consular team at the airport and are seeking consular access to them to ensure that we can provide appropriate assistance."

The spokeswoman said travel advice had been updated and it continued to make clear that travellers to Israel should ensure they are aware of relevant immigration requirements.

"We are watching developments closely," she added.

"We have put in place contingency plans and will deploy consular staff as required to ensure that we can provide appropriate support to British nationals."

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