CAMPAIGNERS who completed a 5,000-mile aid mission to Gaza were given a heroes’ welcome when they arrived back in the UK early yesterday morning.

Hundreds of people gathered in the arrivals hall at Manchester Airport just after midnight to show their support for the drivers returning from the war-torn region.

Wives, partners, brothers, sisters, children and friends held banners and waved flags while others waited excitedly with bunches of flowers.

When the automatic doors opened and the first of the convoy drivers emerged into the bright lights of the hall, the crowd of waiting supporters broke out into spontaneous applause and chanting.

Loved ones rushed to embrace the drivers, who looked tired but jubilant, and relieved to be back safe on home soil.

They were joined by holidaymakers returning from a spot of winter sun in Egypt, who looked on in dazed bewilderment as they returned to England to be greeted by a hundreds of people chanting “Allahu Akhbar” and “viva, viva Palestina”.

The family of Ebrahim Patel, from Bolton, held aloft a giant banner proclaiming “Ebrahim, you’re our hero”, while others held up a large “With love from Bolton” poster.

Driver Arif Bagas, aged 36, from Chaucer Street, Halliwell, said: “It feels good to be back. I want my bed for a week, want some good food, and I want to put myself up.

“I’m feeling happy to be back because it was very mentally and physically challenging, and we had a lot of trials and tribulations.”

More than 100 trucks, led by Respect MP George Galloway, made their way from the UK to Gaza on Valentine’s Day, arriving earlier this week with hundreds of tonnes of clothes, medicine, toys and other aid.

Nine of those trucks were from Bolton, manned by 20 drivers, who donated their vehicles to the Palestinians before flying back from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

Some of the drivers stayed in Gaza to help distribute the aid, and they were joined by other supporters who flew to Egypt to meet the convoy on the final leg of the journey.

The Bolton contingent were joined yesterday by supporters from Manchester, Blackburn, Dewsbury, Batley and Birmingham, who were also welcoming home their drivers.

A reunion and party for the drivers is to be arranged over the next few days.