Three planes of pro-Palestinian activists expelled from Israel following an Israeli raid on a flotilla headed to the blockaded Gaza Strip returned to a hero's welcome in Turkey on Thursday. In addition to the activists, the planes carried the wooden coffins of nine activists killed when Israeli commandos boarded the ships.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc and several Turkish lawmakers welcomed the activists at the airport after Turkey pressured Israel to release the activists—many of them Turkish—from a prison in southern Israel.
Several thousand people waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and shouting anti-Israeli slogans at a rally held in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square late Wednesday night celebrated the activists return. “For now, diplomacy has succeeded, however, Israel will be asked within the framework of laws to pay for the murders it has committed,” Arinc said. “They faced barbarism and oppression but returned with pride,” he added.
Turkish officials have demanded international action against Israel for its flotilla raid. In a speech delivered to the parliament in Ankara Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of committing a “massacre.”
Turkey has since recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv.