Page last updated at 21:37 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 22:37 UK

Israel honours Entebbe operation

Avigdor Lieberman lays wreath 10.09.09
Avigdor Lieberman said the raid was an important part of Israeli history

Israel's foreign minister has visited the site of one of his country's boldest overseas military operations - the old airport in Entebbe, Uganda.

Avigdor Lieberman laid a wreath at the site where Israeli commandos freed more than 100 people from a plane that was hijacked by militants.

Uganda's military ruler Idi Amin was furious at the 1976 operation.

Amin said Kenya colluded with Israel in the raid and hundreds of Kenyans living in Uganda were massacred afterwards.

Some analysts believe the raid helped to destabilise the Amin government, which was eventually overthrown in 1979.

Top-secret plan

Mr Lieberman stopped off at the old terminal as part of a short tour of African countries aimed at boosting Israel's business interests in the region.

He stood in silence as he read a plaque explaining the events of 1976 at the airport, which is still scarred by bullet holes from the operation.

"It is difficult to say something at such a moment," he told a small gathering at the ceremony.

"For the people of Israel, Entebbe is one of the most important pages in our history. It best proves our desire to fight terrorism and to free our people."

Yoni Netanyahu, brother of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was killed during the operation.

This operation will certainly be inscribed in the annals of military history, in legend and in national tradition
Yitzhak Rabin
Former Israeli Prime Minister

But the Entebbe raid was a source of celebration for many Israelis.

The crisis began on 27 June 1976 when two Palestinians and two Germans hijacked a plane that had originated in Israel - with a third of its passengers being Israeli or non-Israeli Jews.

The hijackers - from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Baader-Meinhof gang - diverted the Paris-bound plane to Entebbe, where it landed in the early hours of 28 June.

Some 245 passengers and 12 crew were herded into the airport's old terminal.

The hijackers demanded that dozens of their imprisoned colleagues be freed, and threatened to start killing passengers if their demands were not met.

Israel offered to negotiate with the hijackers and had the deadline put back, but the militants then released all of the hostages who were not Israeli or Jewish.

The Israeli cabinet swiftly approved a top-secret plan to free the hostages by flying into Entebbe and driving to the old terminal in black Mercedes cars, to fool the guards into believing Amin was paying a visit.

The operation did not go as planned though, and the Israelis had to fight with Ugandan sentries to get into the building, killing 20 of them.

They then killed all of the hijackers and freed most of the hostages.

Three hostages and Col Netanyahu died during the raid.

Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's prime minister at the time, said: "This operation will certainly be inscribed in the annals of military history, in legend and in national tradition."

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