Operation Entebbe

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Operation Entebbe
Part of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict
Entebbe Uganda Airport Old Tower1.jpg
The old terminal building of the Entebbe International Airport as it appeared in 2008.
Date 4 July 1976
Location Entebbe Airport, Uganda
Result Mission successful:
  • 102 of 106 hostages rescued.[1]
Belligerents
 Israel
Commanders and leaders
Strength
c.100 commandos,
plus air crew and support personnel.
7 hijackers.
Unknown number of Ugandan soldiers.
Casualties and losses
1 killed
5 wounded
Hijackers:
7 killed

Uganda:
45 killed[2]
11–30 aircraft destroyed[3]

3 hostages killed[4][5]
10 hostages wounded

Operation Entebbe was a counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission carried out by commandos of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on 4 July 1976.[6] A week earlier, on 27 June, an Air France plane with 248 passengers was hijacked, by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the German Revolutionary Cells, and flown to Entebbe, the main airport of Uganda. The local government supported the hijackers and dictator Idi Amin personally welcomed them. The hijackers separated the Israelis and Jews from the larger group and forced them into another room.[7][8][9] That afternoon, 47 non-Israeli hostages were released.[7][9][10] The next day, 101 more non-Israeli hostages were allowed to leave on board an Air France aircraft. More than 100 Israeli and Jewish passengers, along with the non-Jewish pilot Captain Bacos, remained as hostages and were threatened with death.[11][12]

The IDF acted on intelligence provided by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. The hijackers threatened to kill the hostages if their prisoner release demands were not met. This threat led to the planning of the rescue operation.[13] These plans included preparation for armed resistance from Ugandan military troops.[14]

The operation took place at night. Israeli transport planes carried 100 commandos over 2,500 miles (4,000 km) to Uganda for the rescue operation. The operation, which took a week of planning, lasted 90 minutes. 102 hostages were rescued. Five Israeli commandos were wounded and one, the unit commander, Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, was killed. All the hijackers, three hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed, and thirty (some say 11[4][5]) Soviet-built MiG-17s and MiG-21s of Uganda's air force were destroyed.[3] Kenyan sources supported Israel, and in the aftermath of the operation Idi Amin issued orders to retaliate and slaughter several hundred Kenyans present in Uganda.[15]

Operation Entebbe, which had the military codename Operation Thunderbolt, is sometimes referred to retroactively as Operation Jonathan in memory of the unit's leader, Yonatan Netanyahu. He was the older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel.[16]

Background[edit]

The PLO was ousted from Jordan after the Jordanian–Palestinian civil war. The Palestinian military organisations then made South Lebanon its headquarters and enlisted militants from Palestinian refugee camps. South Lebanon was also referred to as Fatahland, due to the almost complete control of Fatah and other military Palestinian organisations over this officially Lebanese area, which they used to stage attacks against Israel, mainly targeting civilians, and to engage in international aircraft hijacking campaigns.

Hijacking[edit]

Air France Flight 139
Hijacking summary
Date 27 June 1976
Summary Hijacking
Site Greek airspace
Passengers 248
Crew 12
Injuries (non-fatal) 10
Fatalities 4
Survivors 256
Aircraft type Airbus A300B4-203
Operator Air France
Registration F-BVGG
Flight origin Ben Gurion Int'l Airport, Israel
Stopover Athens (Ellinikon) Int'l Airport, Greece
Destination Charles De Gaulle Int'l Airport, France

On 27 June 1976, Air France Flight 139, an Airbus A300 (Airbus A300B4-203), registration F-BVGG (c/n 019), originated from Tel Aviv, Israel, carrying 246 mainly Jewish and Israeli passengers and a crew of 12. An additional 58 passengers, including four hijackers, waited to board at the Athens airport, heading for Paris.[17][nb 1] Soon after the 12:30 pm takeoff, the flight was hijacked by two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External Operations (PFLP-EO), and by two Germans, Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann, from the German Revolutionary Cells. The hijackers diverted the flight to Benghazi, Libya.[18] There it was held on the ground for seven hours for refuelling. During that time the hijackers released British-born Israeli citizen Patricia Martell who pretended to have a miscarriage.[19][13] The plane left Benghazi, and at 3:15 pm on the 28th, more than 24 hours after the flight's original departure, it arrived at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.[18]

At Entebbe, the four hijackers were joined by at least four others, supported by the forces of Uganda's pro-Palestinian President, Idi Amin. The hijackers held the passengers hostage in the transit hall of the disused former aiport terminal. On 28 June, they issued a declaration and formulated their demands: In addition to a ransom of 5 million US$ for the release of the airplane, they demanded the release of 40 mainly Palestinian militants held in Israel and 13 other detainees imprisoned in Kenya, France, Switzerland, and West Germany. They threatened that if these demands were not met, they would begin to kill hostages on 1 July 1976.[20][21]

On 29 June, after Ugandan soldiers had opened an entrance to a room next to the crowded waiting hall by destroying a separating wall, the militants separated the Israelis from the other hostages and told them to move to the adjoining room[22] – raising fears and memories of "selections" of prisoners for immediate execution in Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.[21][23]

On 30 June, the Palestinian-German commando released 48 hostages picked from among the non-Israeli group – mainly elderly and sick passengers and mothers with children. 47 of them were flown out to Paris, one passenger was treated in hospital for a day. On 1 July, after the Israeli government had conveyed its agreement to negotiations, the hostage-takers extended their deadline to 4 July noon and released another group of 100 non-Israeli captives who again were flown out to Paris a few hours later. Among the 106 hostages staying behind with their captors at Entebbe airport were the 12 members of the Air France crew, about ten young French passengers, and the Israeli group of some 84 people, including at least five non-Israelis.[1][18][6][24]

Operational planning[edit]

In the week before the raid, Israel tried a number of political avenues to obtain the release of the hostages. Many sources indicate that the Israeli cabinet was prepared to release Palestinian prisoners if a military solution seemed unlikely to succeed. A retired IDF officer, Baruch "Burka" Bar-Lev, had known Idi Amin for many years and was considered to have a strong personal relationship with him. At the request of the cabinet, he spoke with Amin on the phone many times, trying to gain the release of the hostages, without success.[25][26] The Israeli government also approached the US government to deliver a message to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, asking him to request Amin to release the hostages.[27]

At the deadline (1 July),[28] the Israeli government offered to negotiate with the hijackers to extend the deadline to 4 July. Amin also asked them to extend the deadline until that date. This meant he could take a diplomatic trip to Port Louis, Mauritius, to officially hand over chairmanship of the Organisation of African Unity to Seewoosagur Ramgoolam.[29] This extension of the hostage deadline proved crucial to providing Israeli forces enough time to get to Entebbe.[17]

On 3 July, at 18:30, the Israeli cabinet approved the rescue mission,[30] presented by Major General Yekutiel "Kuti" Adam and Brig. Gen Shomron. Shomron was appointed as the operation commander.[31]

Attempts at a diplomatic solution[edit]

As the crisis unfolded, attempts were made to negotiate the release of the hostages. According to declassified diplomatic documents, the Egyptian government under Sadat tried to negotiate with both the PLO and the Ugandan government, and special envoy Hanni al Hassan was sent to negotiate in Uganda.[32][33]

Raid preparation[edit]

President Idi Amin allowed several more Palestinians to join the original hijackers.[34] Hostage accounts given after the raid testified that the hijackers kept both Jew and Israeli hostages.[35] However, in 2011, one former hostage has claimed that non-Israelis, including Jews, were allowed to leave.[23] When Israeli authorities failed to negotiate a political solution, they decided the only option was an attack to rescue the hostages.

Lt. Col. Joshua Shani, lead pilot of the operation, later said that the Israelis had initially conceived of a rescue plan that involved dropping naval commandos into Lake Victoria. The commandos would have ridden rubber boats to the airport located on the edge of the lake. They planned to kill the hijackers and after freeing the hostages, ask Amin for passage home. The Israelis abandoned this plan because they lacked the time necessary and also received word that Lake Victoria was infested with crocodiles.[36]

Aircraft refuelling[edit]

While planning the raid, the Israeli forces had to figure out how to refuel the Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft they intended to use while en route to Entebbe. The Israelis lacked the logistical capacity to aerially refuel four to six aircraft so far from Israeli airspace. While several East African nations, including the logistically preferred choice Kenya, were sympathetic, none wished to incur the wrath of Amin or the Palestinians by allowing the Israelis to land their aircraft within their borders.

The raid could not proceed without assistance from at least one East African government. The Jewish owner of the Block hotels chain in Kenya, along with other members of the Jewish and Israeli community in Nairobi, may have used their political and economic influence to help persuade Kenya's President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta to help Israel. The Israeli government finally secured permission from Kenya for the IDF task force to cross Kenyan airspace and refuel at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.[37]

Kenyan Minister of Agriculture Bruce MacKenzie persuaded Kenyan President Kenyatta to permit Israeli Mossad agents to gather information before the hostage rescue operation in Uganda, and to allow Israeli Air Force aircraft to land and refuel at a Nairobi airport after the rescue.[38] In retaliation, Ugandan President Idi Amin ordered Ugandan agents to assassinate MacKenzie, who was killed on 24 May 1978, when a time bomb attached to his plane exploded as it flew above Ngong Hills, Kenya, in a flight from Entebbe, Uganda.[38][39][40][41] Later, Mossad Chief Director Meir Amit had a forest planted in Israel in MacKenzie's name.[38]

The Norfolk hotel, then owned by the Block Hotels, was bombed on 31 December 1980 by the PFLP/PLO. The attack, in which 13 people of several nationalities were killed and 87 more were wounded, was retaliation for the possible assistance the Block family and Kenyan Jewish/Israeli business community gave to the Entebbe operation. The bombing was the first act of foreign terrorism perpetrated on Kenyan soil.[42]

Hostage intelligence[edit]

Mossad built an accurate picture of the whereabouts of the hostages, the number of hijackers, and the involvement of Ugandan troops from the released hostages in Paris.[43] Additionally, Israeli firms were involved in building projects in Africa during the 1960s and 1970s and while preparing the raid the Israeli army consulted with Solel Boneh, a large Israeli construction company that had built the terminal where the hostages were held.[44] While planning the military operation the IDF erected a partial replica of the airport terminal with the help of civilians who had helped build the original.

Muki Betzer said in a later Associated Press interview that Mossad operatives extensively interviewed the hostages who had been released.[45] He said that a French-Jewish passenger who had a military background and "a phenomenal memory" provided detailed information about the number of weapons carried by the hostage-takers.[45] After Betzer collected intelligence and planned for several days, four Israeli Air Force C-130 Hercules transport aircraft secretly flew to Entebbe Airport at midnight without being detected by Entebbe air traffic control.

Task force[edit]

The Israeli ground task force numbered approximately 100 personnel, and comprised the following:[31]

The ground command and control element
This small group comprised the operation and overall ground commander, Brig. Gen Shomron, the air force representative Col. Ami Ayalon and the communications and support personnel.
The assault element
A 29-man assault unit led by Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, this force was composed entirely of commandos from Sayeret Matkal, and was given the primary task of assaulting the old terminal and rescuing the hostages. Major Betser led one of the element's assault teams, and took command after Lt. Col. Netanyahu was killed.
The securing element
  1. The Paratroopers force led by Col. Matan Vilnai – tasked with securing the civilian airport field, clearing and securing the runways, protection and fuelling of the Israeli aircrafts in Entebbe.
  2. The Golani force led by Col. Uri Sagi – tasked with securing the C-130 Hercules aircraft for the hostages evacuation, getting it as close as possible to the terminal and boarding the hostages; also as general reserves.
  3. The Sayeret Matkal force led by Major Shaul Mofaz – tasked with clearing the military airstrip, destroying the squadron of MiG fighter jets on the ground, to prevent any possible interceptions by the Ugandan Air Force; and holding off hostile ground forces from the city of Entebbe.

Raid[edit]

Aerial photo of the city of Entebbe and the Entebbe International Airport in sunset

Attack route[edit]

Taking off from Sharm al-Sheikh,[46] the task force flew down the international flight path over the Red Sea, mostly flying at a height of no more than 30 m (100 ft) to avoid radar detection by Egyptian, Sudanese, and Saudi Arabian forces. Near the south outlet of the Red Sea the C-130s turned south and passed south of Djibouti. From there, they went to a point northeast of Nairobi, Kenya, likely across Somalia and the Ogaden area of Ethiopia. They turned west, passing through the African Rift Valley and over Lake Victoria.[47]

Two Boeing 707 jets followed the cargo planes. The first Boeing contained medical facilities and landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. The commander of the operation, General Yekutiel Adam, was on board the second Boeing, which circled over Entebbe Airport during the raid.[31]

The Israeli forces landed at Entebbe at 23:00 IST, with their cargo bay doors already open. A black Mercedes that looked like President Idi Amin's vehicle and Land Rovers that usually accompanied Amin's Mercedes were brought along. The Israelis hoped they could use them to bypass security checkpoints. When the C-130s landed, Israeli assault team members drove the vehicles to the terminal building in the same fashion as Amin.[14][48] As they approached the terminal, two Ugandan sentries, aware that Idi Amin had recently purchased a white Mercedes, ordered the vehicles to stop.[49] The commandos shot the sentries using silenced pistols, but did not kill them.[14] As they pulled away, however, an Israeli commando in one of the following Land Rovers killed them with an unsuppressed rifle.[14] Fearing the hijackers would be alerted prematurely, the assault team quickly approached the terminal.[48]

Hostage rescue[edit]

A C-130 Hercules in front of the old terminal in 1994. Bullet holes from the 1976 raid are still visible.

The Israelis sprang from their vehicles and burst towards the terminal. The hostages were in the main hall of the airport building, directly adjacent to the runway. Entering the terminal, the commandos shouted through a megaphone, "Stay down! Stay down! We are Israeli soldiers," in both Hebrew and English. Jean-Jacques Maimoni, a 19-year-old French immigrant to Israel who chose to identify himself as an Israeli Jew to the hijackers even though he also had a French passport—stood up and was killed when Israeli company commander Muki Betzer and another soldier mistook him for a hijacker and fired at him.[18] Another hostage, Pasco Cohen, 52, the manager of an Israeli medical insurance fund, was also fatally wounded by gunfire from the commandos.[18][50] In addition, a third hostage, 56-year-old Ida Borochovitch, a Russian Jew who had emigrated to Israel, was killed in the crossfire.[18]

According to hostage Ilan Hartuv, Wilfried Böse was the only hijacker who, after the operation began, entered the hall housing the hostages. At first he pointed his Kalashnikov rifle at hostages, but "immediately came to his senses" and ordered them to find shelter in the restroom, before being killed by the commandos. According to Hartuv, Böse fired only at Israeli soldiers and not at hostages.[23]

At one point, an Israeli commando called out in Hebrew, "Where are the rest of them?" referring to the hijackers.[51] The hostages pointed to a connecting door of the airport's main hall, into which the commandos threw several hand grenades. They then entered the room and shot dead the three remaining hijackers, ending the assault.[17] Meanwhile, the other three C-130 Hercules had landed and unloaded armoured personnel carriers to provide defence during the anticipated hour of refuelling. The Israelis then destroyed Ugandan MiG fighter planes to prevent them from pursuing, and conducted a sweep of the airfield for intelligence-gathering.[17]

Departure[edit]

After the raid, the Israeli assault team returned to their aircraft and began loading the hostages. Ugandan soldiers shot at them in the process. The Israeli commandos returned fire with their AK47s, inflicting casualties on the Ugandans. During this brief but intense firefight, Ugandan soldiers fired from the Airport control tower. Israeli commander Yonatan Netanyahu was shot in the chest and killed, possibly by a Ugandan sniper.[1][52] He was the only Israeli commando killed in the operation.[17] At least five other commandos were wounded. Israeli commandos fired light machine guns and an RPG back at the control tower, suppressing the Ugandans' fire. The Israelis finished evacuating the hostages, loaded Netanyahu's body into one of the planes, and left Entebbe Airport.[53] The entire operation lasted 53 minutes—of which the assault lasted only 30 minutes. All seven hijackers present, and between 33 and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed.[17][need quotation to verify] About 11 Ugandan Army Air Force MiG-17 fighter planes were destroyed on the ground at Entebbe Airport.[54] Out of the 106 hostages, three were killed, one was left in Uganda, and approximately 10 were wounded. The 102 rescued hostages were flown to Israel via Nairobi, Kenya, shortly after the raid.[16]

Ugandan reaction[edit]

Members of family pay last respects to Dora Bloch, 75, after she was murdered by officers of the Ugandan army

Dora Bloch, a 75-year-old Israeli who also held British citizenship, had been released by the hijackers due to illness and taken to Mulago Hospital in Kampala. After the raid she was killed by officers of the Ugandan army, as were some of her doctors and nurses, apparently for trying to intervene.[18][nb 2][56] In April 1987, Henry Kyemba, Uganda's Attorney general and Minister of Justice at the time, told the Uganda Human Rights Commission that Bloch had been dragged from her hospital bed and killed by two army officers on Amin's orders.[57] Bloch was shot and her body dumped in the trunk of a car that had Ugandan intelligence services number plates. Her remains were recovered near a sugar plantation 20 miles (32 km) east of Kampala in 1979,[58] after the Ugandan–Tanzanian War ended Amin's rule.[55] Amin also ordered the killing of hundreds of Kenyans living in Uganda in retaliation for Kenya's assistance to Israel in the raid.[59]

Aftermath[edit]

The government of Uganda, represented by the Foreign Minister Juma Oris, later convened a session of the United Nations Security Council to seek official condemnation of the Israeli raid,[60] as a violation of Ugandan sovereignty. The Security Council ultimately declined to pass any resolution on the matter, condemning neither Israel nor Uganda. In his address to the Council, Israeli ambassador Chaim Herzog said:

We come with a simple message to the Council: we are proud of what we have done because we have demonstrated to the world that a small country, in Israel's circumstances, with which the members of this Council are by now all too familiar, the dignity of man, human life and human freedom constitute the highest values. We are proud not only because we have saved the lives of over a hundred innocent people—men, women and children—but because of the significance of our act for the cause of human freedom.[61][62]

Western nations spoke in support of the raid. West Germany called the raid "an act of self defense." Switzerland and France praised the operation. Representatives of the United Kingdom and United States offered significant praise, calling the Entebbe raid "an impossible operation." Some in the United States noted that the hostages were freed on 4 July 1976, 200 years after the signing of the US declaration of independence.[63][64][65] In private conversation with Israeli Ambassador Dinitz, Henry Kissinger sounded criticism for Israeli use of US equipment during the operation, but that criticism was not made public.[66] In mid-July 1976, the supercarrier USS Ranger (CV-61) embarked, and her escorts entered the Indian Ocean and operated off the Kenyan coast in response to a threat of military action by forces from Uganda.[67]

UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim described the raid as "a serious violation of the national sovereignty of a United Nations member state," (meaning Uganda). Dozens of Ugandan soldiers were killed in the raid. The Arab and Communist world condemned the operation, calling it an act of aggression.

Captain Bacos was awarded the Legion of Honour, and the other crew members were awarded the French Order of Merit.[68][69][70][71]

In the ensuing years, Betser and the Netanyahu brothers—Iddo and Benjamin, all Sayeret Matkal veterans—argued in increasingly public forums about who was to blame for the unexpected early firefight that caused Yonatan's death and partial loss of tactical surprise.[72][73]

As a result of the operation, the United States military developed highly trained rescue teams modelled on the Entebbe rescue.[74] One notable attempt to imitate it was Operation Eagle Claw, a failed rescue of 53 American embassy personnel held hostage in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis.[75][76]

Nationalities[edit]

The hijacked aircraft carried 248 passengers and 12 crew members.[17] Four passengers were killed and seven injured.[77]

The four passengers killed were:

  1. Jean-Jacques Maimoni—a 19-year-old French Jew who stood up while the Israeli commandos were shooting at the hijackers. They may have mistaken him for a hijacker.[18]
  2. Pasco Cohen—a 52-year-old manager of an Israeli medical insurance fund, who was accidentally killed by fire aimed at a terrorist standing nearby.[18]
  3. Ida Borochovitch—a 56-year-old Russian Jew who had immigrated to Israel, was killed in the crossfire.[18]
  4. Dora Bloch—a 75-year-old British immigrant to Israel, was first released by the hostage-takers due to her illness, but subsequently killed by Ugandan troops in reprisal for the raid while she was under treatment at Mulago Hospital in Kampala.[55]

Commemorations[edit]

In August 2012, Uganda and Israel commemorated the raid at a sombre ceremony at the base of a tower at the Old Entebbe Airport, where Yonatan Netanyahu was killed. Uganda and Israel renewed their commitment in the fight against terrorism and to work towards humanity. In addition, wreaths were laid, a moment of silence was held, speeches were given, and a poem was recited. The flags of Uganda and Israel waved side by side, demonstrating the two countries' strong bilateral relations, next to a plaque with a history of the raid. The ceremony was attended by Ugandan State Minister for Animal Industry Bright Rwamirama and the deputy Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel Daniel Ayalon, who laid wreaths at the site.[78]

Dramatisations and documentaries[edit]

The incident has been the subject of several films. Two were US productions with American/British casts, and a third was produced in Israel with mostly Israeli actors in key roles. Various other films have been inspired by the event.

Documentaries[edit]

  • Operation Thunderbolt: Entebbe is a documentary about the hijacking of Air France Flight AF139 and subsequent rescue mission is featured in the documentary .[79] Below follows a complete list of films on the subject:
  • Cohen on the Bridge (2010) is a documentary by director Andrew Wainrib, who gained unprecedented access to the surviving commandos and hostages. An animated short of the documentary won the St. Louis International Film Festival's Festival Prize,[80] was an Award Winner at the Palm Springs Short Fest[81] and played many festivals in 2010 including Big Sky, and Santa Barbara International. The feature length documentary was slated for release in 2011, the 35th anniversary of Operation Entebbe.[82]
  • Live or Die in Entebbe (2012) by director Eyal Boers also focuses on the operation; the film follows Yonatan Khayat's journey to uncover the circumstances of his uncle Jean-Jacques Maimoni's death in the raid.[83][84]
  • "Assault on Entebbe", an episode of the National Geographic Channel documentary Situation Critical
  • Rise and Fall of Idi Amin (1980)
  • Operation Thunderbolt, the fifth episode in the 2012 Military Channel documentary series Black Ops[85]

Dramatizations[edit]

Films inspired by Operation Entebbe[edit]

  • The Delta Force (1986) which featured a hostage rescue operation inspired by Operation Entebbe[86]
  • Zameen (2003) is a Bollywood movie named starring Ajay Devgun and Abhishekh Bachchan who draw a plan to rescue hostages of an Indian airliner hijacked by Pakistani militants on the basis of Operation Entebbe.

Other media[edit]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Sources state varying numbers of passengers, between 228 and 246; the higher figure used is from the New York Times.
  2. ^ Now confidential cabinet papers released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the British High Commission in Kampala received a report from a Ugandan civilian that Mrs Bloch had been shot and her body dumped in the boot of a car which had Ugandan intelligence services number plates.[55]

References[edit]

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  3. ^ a b Brzoska, Michael; Pearson, Frederic S. Arms and Warfare: Escalation, De-escalation, and Negotiation, Univ. of S. Carolina Press (1994) p. 203
  4. ^ a b Encyclopedia Britannica: Entebbe raid
  5. ^ a b 1976: Israelis rescue Entebbe hostages
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  35. ^ Cite error: The named reference DT-1977 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 0°02′42.8784″N 32°27′13.1616″E / 0.045244000°N 32.453656000°E / 0.045244000; 32.453656000