Tourists feel the heat of tense Israeli-Turkish ties

Mon Sep 5, 2011 9:03am EDT
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By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli passengers said they were segregated and searched at Istanbul airport on Monday and Turkish tourists made similar complaints about treatment in Israel, accounts that further stoked a heated feud between the two countries.

Three days after Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador over Israel's refusal to apologize for a raid that killed nine Turks on a ship trying to break its blockade of Gaza in 2010, visitors from both countries were feeling unwelcome.

Hayuta Leibovich, an Israeli who manufactures clothes in Turkey, said she and other Israelis in line at passport control at Istanbul's Ataturk airport were told by security officers to stand in a corner of the terminal.

"They gathered us in a group and asked for our passports -- not very nicely," she said. "I felt as if they put us in a ghetto."

Leibovich said she usually speeds through the airport's arrival procedures in about 15 minutes during her frequent business trips to Turkey.

On Friday, Turkey -- a former strategic ally of Israel and once a hugely popular vacation spot for Israelis -- froze all military pacts with Israel, kicked out its ambassador and threatened legal sanctions after a United Nations report on the 2010 incident was issued.

Israel has spurned Turkish demands to apologize for the killings, saying its commandos acted in self-defense after meeting violent resistance from pro-Palestinian activists in a flotilla challenging an Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, which is run by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Jerusalem said the Israeli travelers were questioned individually and waited about 90 minutes before their passports were returned and they were released.   Continued...