Riot police scuffle with protesters
Riot police scuffle with protesters outside the venue where the Israeli women's volleyball team is playing against Serbia in Ankara on July 24, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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Pro-Palestinian protesters scuffled with police Saturday near a hall where an Israeli volleyball team played in a game closed to the public because of security concerns.

A relatively tolerant approach to the protests by authorities reflected Turkey's efforts to calibrate public outrage over the May 31 deaths of nine activists aboard a Turkish ship in an aid flotilla bound for Gaza - even as it maintains ties with Israel, which has been a chief supplier of military aid.

"Don't be dogs of Zionism. God will hold you to account," some demonstrators snarled at police in helmets who pushed them back with shields of reinforced plastic. "Esteemed friends," appealed a police commander with a loudspeaker. "Please don't cause trouble."

Turkey has threatened to cut diplomatic relations unless it gets an apology or an international investigation of the flotilla incident; Israel has refused to apologize and is conducting its own inquiry.

The government imposed heavy security on the game, a 0-3 loss for Israel to Serbia in a European Volleyball League women's match, dispatching police to block roads around the venue. Israeli security officials in suits guarded the women, and the Israeli players rode in a bus with tinted windows to the indoor stadium, which was mostly empty save for trainers, staff and their relatives.

Only a few flags were visible in the stands, and they were Israeli. After a while, the supporters folded them neatly and tucked them away.

Police thwarted activists who sent email messages that urged supporters to attend the game in order to protest against Israel, advising them to arrive one by one, hiding Palestinian flags and banners, and then shouting slogans upon entering the hall. One message named the hotel housing the Israeli athletes, who were scheduled to play the winner of a Turkey-Bulgaria game for third place on Sunday.

Instead, protesters gathered two blocks from the stadium, some bearing posters with the image of 19-year-old Furkan Dogan, the youngest of the activists killed in the raid by Israeli naval commandos on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship.

Israeli authorities have said their forces were attacked upon boarding the ship, and acted in self-defense. An Israeli military report this month praised the commandos, but cited flaws in intelligence-gathering and planning, with security officials underestimating the potential for violence.

Hakan Albayrak, a columnist for Turkey's Yeni Safak newspaper who was a passenger on the Mavi Marmara during the raid, said it was a pity that more people had not attended the volleyball protest. About 100 milled around, some rapping police shields with the poles of their Palestinian flags and lobbing water bottles at security forces.
 

"These players are guests of our government," Albayrak said. "We cannot harm any Israeli in our country, but we have the right to protest."

The Israeli coach, Arie Selinger, coached the U.S. women's volleyball team to a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and the Dutch men's team to silver at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He said the loss Saturday was a good experience for his team.

Then he thanked Turkish authorities, alluding with the hint of a smile to the tight security measures.

"We know that we caused a lot of trouble," he said.

Earlier this month, An Israel-bound El Al flight from Athens was delayed for two hours as protesters obstructed the airline's check-in counters to protest the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The protesters - members of a Greek labor union, according to an Israeli representative of Greece's Aegean Airlines - said they blocked five check-in counters to express their opposition to Israel's "oppressive policies," including the blockade.

In February, an Israeli basketball team was pelted with bottles and forced to flee the court.