By Hyun Young Yi
INCHEON/SEOUL (Reuters) -South Koreans returning from Israel on Wednesday said they were relieved to get out after clashes between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas forced airlines to suspend flights. A plane carrying 192 South Koreans from Tel Aviv arrived at Incheon Airport, just outside the capital Seoul, after Korean Air sent an empty plane to bring them home. Dozens of family members were seen waiting anxiously for the flight. Jang Jeong-yoon, a 62-year-old who was aboard the flight, said the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv had been “hectic” as tourists scrambled to get out. “As flights were cancelled or delayed, there was fear and people were rushing to leave,” said Jang, who said she had been in Israel for the festival of Sukkot. Some 570 South Koreans are estimated to live in Israel while about 230 were there short-term, many travelling for pilgrimage, South Korea’s foreign ministry said. About 60 have moved to neighbouring Jordan, and another 30 are expected to return home on Thursday, the ministry said. No South Korean casualties had been reported in the violence. Korean Air has cancelled flights to Tel Aviv and expects flights in future to be irregular. In central Seoul, hundreds of people staged a rally to denounce Israel for what they called oppression of Palestinians. Holding signs saying “STOP Israeli bombing of Gaza” and “Victory 4 Palestinian Resistance”, the protesters tried to march towards the Israeli embassy but police blocked them. Saleh Rantisi, a 26-year-old protester who said he settled in South Korea as a refugee, said the Hamas attack was not intended as the murder of innocent people and Palestinians had the rights to resist Israel. “We’re not looking to kill the people,” he said. The violence has sparked international declarations of support for Israel as well as appeals for an end to the fighting and protection of civilians.
(Reporting by Hyun Young Yi, Dogyun Kim, Daewoung Kim, Hyunsu Yim and Hyonhee Shin; Writing by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Stephen Coates and Christian Schmollinger)