New ship on way to Israeli blockade

JERUSALEM — Israel on Wednesday deported hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists who had been detained after its commando raid Monday on a Gaza aid flotilla, and braced for the arrival of at least one more ship attempting to break its naval blockade of Gaza.

In Istanbul, Turkey, hundreds of activists returned from Israel to a hero's welcome early today. Nine bodies were on the first plane.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc and several Turkish lawmakers welcomed them at the airport after Turkey pressured Israel to release the detainees, most of whom are Turkish. Others were from Arab countries, Europe and the United States.

A few thousand jubilant relatives and supporters, waving Palestinian and Turkish flags, burst into applause outside the airport, chanting "God is Great!"

The MV Rachel Corrie, named for an American activist who was killed in the Gaza Strip in 2003, set off Monday from Malta toward the Gaza Strip. Carrying 15 passengers, including Mairead Maguire, a Northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate, it was expected to arrive in Israel this weekend.

Derek Graham, an activist on board, said they would attempt to break the blockade to honor the memory of the nine people killed in the previous flotilla attempt.

President Obama and other world leaders urged Israel to ensure that there's no recurrence of a commando raid like Monday's.

"It's important to the president and to our country that we don't see the same kind of events unfold like they did the last time. So we are talking to our partners and are hopeful that we won't see a repeat," said Bill Burton, a White House spokesman. He said the talks under way were "productive."

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called criticism of Israel's actions "an attack of international hypocrisy" and said Israel would continue to counter any attempt to breach the blockade.

"This wasn't a love ship, it was a hate boat," he said. "This was not a peaceful operation, it was a terrorist operation."

Despite demands by friends and critics of Israel to end the blockade of Gaza, Netanyahu defended it, saying it had averted possible missile attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The Rachel Corrie had been scheduled to leave with the rest of the Gaza-bound flotilla last week, but it was delayed because of technical problems.

Activists from the Free Gaza Movement who helped organize the flotilla said a larger group of ships was being assembled to attempt another breach of the Gaza blockade next month.

Dozens of countries protested the assault on the activists, who were attempting to draw worldwide attention to the Gaza blockade by delivering more than 10,000 tons of aid.