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Turks, Israelis face tough time at respective airports

ISTANBUL/JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse | 9/5/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Forty Israeli passengers on a Turkish flight to Istanbul were held for an hour and a half upon arrival and questioned before being released as a group of Turkish tourists claimed that Israeli officers singled them out for airport strip searches in Tel Aviv

The Israeli foreign ministry said 40 Israeli passengers were held for questioning upon arrival at Istanbul on Sunday as a group of Turkish tourists claimed they were strip searched before departing from Tel Aviv the same day.

The incidents came as tensions between the former allies reached new heights over a deadly May 2010 Israeli raid on a flotilla of ships that left nine Turkish citizens dead.

[HH]Israelis questioned

The Israeli foreign ministry said it had received an "unusual" complaint from one of the passengers involved, saying the Israeli passengers on the Turkish Airlines flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul had been singled out for questioning.

"It was a Turkish Airlines flight that landed in Istanbul, about 40 passengers were detained," deputy foreign ministry spokesman Ilana Stein told AFP.

"They were taken to separate rooms to be questioned. Their passports were taken. After about an hour and a half of waiting, they were questioned one by one and after that they got their passports back and then they were free to go."

[HH]Turks 'forced to strip'

Meanwhile, Turkish passengers said they were seperated from travelers from other countries as they headed back to Turkey on Sunday and taken into rooms for detailed body searches at Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv.

"They immediately told the group from Bucharest to pass ... but they took us into changing rooms. [We] took off our clothes and shoes. [They] searched our bodies with their hands and then with a detector," Arif Çınar said at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul.

"They searched our bodies for explosives for several times," Çınar said.

Another passenger, Mustafa Teke said he was asked to take off his clothes and remain naked for body search and when he refused officials forced him to do so.

The leader of the tour group, Eyüp Ensar Uğur said their plane was delayed due to those security searches. "They even examined my paper napkin three times," he said.

Foreign travellers passing through Israel's Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv routinely face lengthy questioning and invasive searches by the Israeli security forces, prompting a steady stream of complaints. 

Israel claims the searches are routine and a necessary procedure to ensure security.

Ankara last week expelled Israel's ambassador and suspended all military agreements in retaliation for a 2010 deadly-raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

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