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Over 120 pro-Palestinian activists were detained after arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport as part of a staged anti-Israel protest at the weekend. Of the 124, four were released a short while later but the rest are being held in Israeli prisons, since they were previously barred from entering the country.

The Palestinians claim dozens of other activists managed to pass through border control and arrived in the West Bank.

About 200 more pro-Palestinian activists were prevented from flying to Israel by foreign airlines. A list of names of those potential passengers who would not be allowed into the country had been circulated to the airlines. Israel warned the companies that if those passengers were allowed to travel to Israel, they would be forced to return them back to their airport of origin at the airlines' expense.

A source at the Immigration and Population Authority said yesterday that Israel intends to expel the activists within 48 hours, but foreign airlines have already warned that they will not be able to move large groups of activists out of Israel quickly.

"This is the peak of the holiday season and the flights are full. We will have to prepare accordingly and make different arrangements. At this time we are not ready in terms of manpower and space on aircraft," said a manager at one of the large European companies with offices in Israel.

The preparations to meet the arrival of the air activists began on Thursday, with the deployment of about 600 police officers at the airport. On Friday morning, the police were informed that the airlines were preventing some 200 activists from boarding flights to Israel, and dozens were protesting at airports in Germany, France and Belgium. In the early afternoon, flights began landing. Each flight included, on average, several dozen activists. Flights with more than 30 activists were diverted to the more isolated Terminal 1.

The flight from Luton of the British airline EasyJet, which had 50 activists, was diverted to an isolated landing area.

As soon as the aircraft doors opened, security staff began identifying the passengers. All those identified as being among those whose entry into the country was barred were taken away by members of the Israel Prison Service. The other passengers were taken to Terminal 3 and passport control.

Of the 310 suspects questioned, 124 were taken to prison - some at Givon in Ramle, and others to Be'er Sheva. During the night, a final group of 35 activists landed from Frankfurt, and they were barred from entering the country.

There were some demonstrations at the airport, though, as members of the Israeli left waited for their colleagues from abroad and waved welcome signs to the foreign activists.

The police expressed satisfaction with the handling of the incident. Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said: "We have met the assignments given to us by the political leadership. Our deployment was immediate and was appropriate to the degree of threat posed."

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch visited the airport and said "the mission, as defined by the government, was to prevent trouble-makers from creating provocation. We prepared for all scenarios."

Meanwhile, Palestinian groups claimed that 80-90 foreign activists had managed to make it to Ramallah. Many of them participated in a protest march in Nabi Saleh and Qalandiyah in the West Bank, where there were confrontations with IDF troops.