Entebbe raid and how it strained Kenya-Uganda ties

Uganda President Idi Amin and his Kenyan counterpart  Jomo Kenyatta in May 1976. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]

KENYA: On June 27, 1976, Israeli fighter jets that were on a mission to rescue hostages held by Palestinian radicals in Entebbe, Uganda made a stopover in Nairobi under the cover of darkness and refuelled before proceeding on the daring mission.

The 35-minute mission left 20 Ugandan soldiers and all the seven hijackers dead along with three hostages, but the Israeli commandos rescued 255 passengers. 

Members of the Baader-Meinhof Group and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) had seized an Air France airliner and its passengers. The hijackers forced the airplane to land in Uganda.

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Uganda’s President and dictator Idi Amin arrived at the airport to give a speech in support of PFLP and even supplied the hijackers with extra troops and weapons. Amin was humiliated by the surprise raid. He believed Kenya had colluded with Israel in planning the raid. Hundreds of Kenyans living in Uganda were massacred soon afterwards.

It is alleged that a number of other Kenyans were tied up, dumped and left to die in Lake Victoria. In Homa-Bay town, there is a myth that a man called Ondie Ochol, who died in 1990, was part of the group that was left to die in the lake.

“People knew that he used to work in Kampala, but how he got to Homa-Bay was a mystery. He apparently told some people that he managed to swim his way out, but nobody knows how he ended up in Homa-Bay,” says Jacob Olingo, who lived with Ochol.

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According to the military history posted on online magazine, about.com, the Air France Flight 139, which led to the strained relationship between Kenya and Uganda departed Tel Aviv for Paris with a stopover in Athens. Shortly after taking off from Greece, the plane was hijacked by two members of PFLP and two Germans from Revolutionary Cells.

“The terrorists directed the plane to land and refuel in Benghazi, Libya before continuing on to pro-Palestinian Uganda. Landing at Entebbe, the terrorists were reinforced by three more extremists and were welcomed by dictator Amin,” states the magazine.

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Freeing hostages

On July 1, the Israeli government opened negotiations to gain more time. The following day, a rescue mission was approved with Colonel Yoni Netanyahu in command.

On the night of July 3, four Israeli C-130 aircrafts approached Entebbe under the cover of darkness. Upon landing, 29 Israeli commandos unloaded a Mercedes and two Land Rovers hoping to convince the terrorists that they were Amin or another high-ranking Ugandan officials.

“After being discovered by Ugandan sentinels near the terminal, the Israelis stormed the building, freeing the hostages and killing the hijackers. As they departed with the hostages, the Israelis destroyed 11 Ugandan Mig-17 fighters to prevent pursuit. Taking off, the Israelis flew to Kenya where the freed hostages were transferred to other aircrafts.”

All in all, the Entebbe Raid freed 100 hostages. In the fighting, three hostages were killed, as well as 45 Ugandan soldiers and six terrorists. The only Israeli commando killed was Col Netanyahu, who was hit by a Ugandan sniper. He was the older brother of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Benjamin Netanyahu Uganda Idi Amin Israeli