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Last Updated: Monday, 3 July 2006, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Entebbe raid sparked joy and anger
By Raffi Berg
BBC News

Israel's daring rescue of more than 100 hostages from Entebbe airport in Uganda on 3 July 1976 drew sharply contrasting reactions - euphoria in Israel and fury in Africa.

Front page of Voice of Uganda newspaper
The raid made headlines around the world
African nations submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council condemning Israel's "act of aggression", but the document failed to garner enough votes to pass.

But while the raid was officially denounced by the Ugandan regime and its allies, there was quiet satisfaction among ordinary Ugandans.

"We were laughing because we saw the Ugandan army arrive hours after the Israelis left," Vincent Magombe, who witnessed the raid as a student, told the BBC News website.

"The troops just started shooting at anything and were even fighting each other."

Mr Magombe said the raid marked the beginning of the end of former Ugandan President Idi Amin's rule.

"After the attack, there was fear but also jubilation that Amin was beaten.

"It turned around the whole myth about Amin. Here was a man who portrayed himself as mighty but it showed his army was completely weak, and from then on the opposition grew from strength to strength.

"Up to today in Uganda, apart from the dramatic war which overthrew Amin there has never been anything as fascinating for Ugandans as the Entebbe attack," he said.

'A bad turn'

The day after the rescue, Amin, in a telephone interview with an Israeli journalist, deplored the raid and insisted he had actually been working to free the hostages.

"I am carrying in my arms the bodies of my soldiers who fell by your men's bullets, and I believe you have done me a bad turn," he is reported to have said.

Commenting on the then-unknown fate of British-born hostage Dora Bloch, who was released to hospital in Kampala two days before the raid, Amin claimed the 73-year-old had returned to the airport and that he had even provided his own car for her to travel in.

Mrs Bloch had, in fact, been dragged from her hospital bed and murdered on Amin's orders, the day after the rescue. Her body was eventually recovered in 1979 and buried in Israel.

Amin believed Kenya had colluded with Israel in planning the raid and hundreds of Kenyans living in Uganda were massacred soon afterwards.

'A great loss'

In Israel, there was unbridled joy at the hostages' return, while the operation spectacularly demonstrated the lengths Israel was prepared to go to protect its people.

Among the troops, the feeling of elation was diminished by the death of their leader, Lt Col Yonatan Netanyahu - brother of future Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin - shot in the opening moments of the operation.

I saw all the expressions in the world, from total hysteria and crying to singing
Lt Col Joshua Shani
Squadron commander

"It was a shock for us," Amir Ofer, the first commando to enter the terminal where the hostages were held, told the BBC News website.

"We lost an extremely talented officer, who we knew personally. It was a great loss, not only because he was our commander, but because he was one of the best colonels in the Israeli army for sure. "

Their unexpected rescue, hours before the expiry of a deadline for their execution, left the freed hostages with a feeling of disbelief.

Lt Col Joshua Shani, who flew the assault team to Entebbe and back, recalled the moment he saw the freed passengers during a refuelling stop in Nairobi, Kenya.

"I looked inside their plane and I saw all the expressions in the world, from total hysteria and crying to singing," he told the BBC.

Country profile: Uganda
24 May 06 |  Country profiles

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