Israeli Attack on Aid Flotilla in Gaza Strip
May 31, 2010
Ten people were reported killed and about 30 wounded as Israeli forces stormed a Turkish ship in the flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, according to Turkish and Israeli media.
Israeli private channel 10 television reported that Israeli marine commandos had opened fire after being attacked with axes and knives by a number of the passengers on board the aid ships. It did not give the source of its information.
The station did not say whether the dead and injured were passengers or members of the Israeli navy.
Israel's army radio said between 10 and 14 people had been killed in clashes which broke out after the passengers allegedly tried to grab weapons off the naval commandos who tried to storm one of the boats.
It was not clear whether the clashes were taking place on just one of the six boats making up the aid convoy, and the Israeli army had no immediate comment on the incident.
Shortly afterwards, the Israeli military censor ordered a block on all information regarding those injured or killed during the storming of the ship.
Serkan Nergis from the Foundation of Humanitarian Relief (IHH), an Istanbul-based Islamist charity, earlier told AFP by telephone: "Our friends on the ship told us that two people were killed and around 30 others were wounded on the Mavi Marmara ship."
Hamas-run Al-Aqsa television showed footage of black-clad Israeli commandos descending from helicopters and clashing with activists, as well as several wounded people lying on the deck of the ship.
Turkish television station NTV reported at least 10 people were killed, according to Israeli news website Haaretz.com.
The Israeli military declined to comment on the reports and organisers of the aid convoy said they were no longer in contact with the boats.
Israeli Defence Force radio was reporting passengers on board the aid-laden convoy of boats tried to wrest weapons from Israeli soldiers, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Army radio was reporting the passengers’ actions - grabbing weapons out of the soldiers’ arms - started the violence.
The Free Gaza organisation said on Twitter their lawyer in the Israeli city of Haifa said 10 people had been killed.
The group said the boats were being taken into Haifa by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).
An hour-and-a-half earlier the group announced IDF commandos had boarded the boats from helicopters.
‘‘At about 4:30 am (local time), Israeli commandos dropped from helicopter onto deck of Turkish ship, immediately opened fire on unarmed civilians,’’ the group wrote.The Israeli ambassador was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry today after a Turkish aid ship was stormed, a Turkish diplomat said.
‘‘Israeli soldiers shooting at people, all over the Turkish boat,’’ they said about half an hour later.
"The ambassador (Gabby Levy) was summoned to the foreign ministry. We will convey our reaction in the strongest terms," the diplomat, who asked not to be named, told AFP.Meanwhile in Turkey, local media is reporting police have blocked dozens of stone-throwing protesters who tried to storm the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul following the flotilla attack.
CNN-Turk and NTV televisions show dozens of angry protesters scuffling with Turkish police, who are guarding the Consulate in downtown Istanbul.
The protesters were shouting ‘‘damn Israel’’, according to the Associated Press.
The ships, carrying more than 700 passengers, were on the last leg of a high-profile mission to deliver some 10,000 tonnes of building and other supplies to Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007.
Huwaida Arraf, chairman of the Free Gaza Movement, had earlier told AFP by phone from the boat Challenger 1 that the ships had expected a confrontation with Israel today.
The boats had started heading towards Gaza from international waters of Cyprus at 3pm local time (1200 GMT) Sunday, with organisers saying they hoped to enter Gaza waters during the daylight hours.
About six hours after their departure, three Israeli missile boats left their naval base in the northern coastal city of Haifa on a mission to intercept the flotilla, reporters on board one of the vessels said before being told to turn off their phones.
Israel has slammed as "illegal" the convoy's attempt to break the Gaza blockade and warned it would intercept the ships, tow them to the Ashdod port and detain the activists before seeking to deport them.
In Gaza, anti-siege activists on Sunday called on the international community to ensure the protection of the "Freedom Flotilla" which had been aiming to arrive on Saturday but was repeatedly delayed.
"I am asking the international community to protect these boats from the Israeli threat," independent Palestinian MP Jamal al-Khudari told a news conference on a boat anchored outside the Gaza port.With the flotilla expected to approach at some stage over the next 24 hours, Gaza fishermen took to the sea flying Palestinian flags as well as those of Greece, Ireland, Sweden and Turkey -- all of which sent boats.
"If Israel blocks them, they have a strategy for getting here," said Khudari, who heads the Gaza-based Committee to Lift the Siege. He did not elaborate.
Demonstrators also released scores of balloons with pictures tied to them of children killed during Israel's massive 22-day offensive against Gaza that ended in January 2009.
Khudari said the convoy, which is carrying hundreds of civilians and a handful of European MPs, would stop outside Gaza territorial waters before attempting to make landfall.
It will travel "in two stages," he said: "First they will stop in international waters at 30 nautical miles (from Gaza), and tomorrow (Monday) they will reach the shore."
Audrey Bomse, legal adviser to the Free Gaza Movement, said the activists were considering sending "a second wave" of boats later this week.
Israel has called the convoy a media stunt, insisting the humanitarian situation is stable in Gaza despite reports to the contrary from aid agencies and offering to deliver the supplies through its own land crossings.
"This is a provocation intended to delegitimise Israel," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said on Saturday.The activists responded on their website that they had offered to take in a letter for Shalit from his family but received no response from their lawyer.
"If the flotilla had a genuine humanitarian goal, then its organisers should have transferred something for the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit as well," he said of the Israeli snatched by militants in 2006 and held by the Hamas Islamist movement which runs the enclave.
Hamas's refusal to release Shalit is cited by Israel as one of the main reasons for imposing the economic blockade on Gaza in the wake of the group's violent takeover of the territory.
Pro-Palestinian activists have landed in Gaza five times, with another three unsuccessful attempts since their first such voyage in August 2008. The latest is their biggest operation.
May 31, 2010
Israel's allies froze military ties and summoned ambassadors on Monday over the storming of an aid flotilla bound for Gaza, as Muslim leaders slammed the deadly raid as "criminal" and "inhuman".
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "shocked" by the deadly Israeli assault on a convoy carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists, lawmakers and journalists through international waters towards besieged Gaza.
"It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place," Ban said, calling on Israel to "urgently" explain itself over the raid, which left up to 19 dead, many of them reportedly Turks.As the Vatican voiced "deep sadness and concern" at the loss of life, capitals across Europe summoned Israel's ambassadors to explain the assault.
Ankara responded with fury, recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv and warning the assault would have "irreparable consequences" to bilateral ties.
Police held back angry crowds shouting "Damn Israel" outside Israel's missions to the country, as Turkey accused Israel of a "fragrant breach of international law," and "disregard for human life and peaceful initiatives."
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc also said plans for three joint military exercises with Israel had been scrapped.
Greece, which had dozens of nationals in the convoy, pulled out of joint military exercises with Israel and cancelled a visit by its air force chief, as an aid group claimed that commandos in helicopters had fired on a Greek vessel.
Two Australians are in an Israeli detention centre after they were caught up in the deadly clash.
Fairfax journalist Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty were travelling with the flotilla.
They are reported to be safe.
Israel said its naval forces were attacked after they stormed six ships loaded with thousands of tonnes of aid and with hundreds of activists aboard, and that both sides used live fire.
But Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denounced the raid as "inhuman Zionist regime action," while the Islamist movement Hamas which rules Gaza urged world Muslims to "rise up" in protest.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared three days of mourning over the "massacre," while Arab League chief Amr Mussa called it a "crime."
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, which his country currently chairs, a government official said.
Egypt condemned the "acts of killing committed by Israel forces" while Kuwait's parliament speaker said the storming of the flotilla, which was carrying 16 Kuwaitis including an MP, was a "heinous Israeli crime."
In Europe, condemnation was equally swift.
The European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton demanded Israel mount a "full inquiry," as member states ordered an emergency meeting of their ambassadors to the EU in Brussels on Monday.
Spain - the current European Union president - France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Austria and Greece summoned Israel's ambassadors for explanations, with Madrid slamming the operation as "unacceptable".
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Israel of a "disproportionate use of force" while Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner insisted "nothing can justify" such violence.
Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also said he was "deeply concerned" about the deaths, while Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini "deplored" the loss of civilian life.
Israel's Channel 10 TV said 19 passengers were killed and 36 wounded in the raid.
The bloody ending to the high-profile mission to deliver supplies to Gaza came on the eve of a meeting in Washington between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Thousands of Palestinian refugees and activists demonstrated across Lebanon to denounce the raid, some chanting slogans like "Give us weapons, give us weapons and send us on to Gaza".
Maen Bashur, a Lebanese coordinator for the mission, said activists had expected the convoy to be "attacked" by the Israelis and considered those seized on board the ship as "war prisoners".
A Cyprus MEP Kyriacos Triantafyllides, who was prevented at the last minute from joining the aid mission, told the Cypriot news agency CNA that activists had "expected a strong reaction from Israel."
"But nobody believed it would come to this point where they would face something akin to an invading army," he said.
May 31, 2010
Israeli commandos on Monday stormed six ships carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists on an aid mission to the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens.
The operation in international waters off the Gaza coast was a nightmare scenario for Israel that looked certain to further damage its international standing, strain already tense relations with Turkey and draw unwanted attention to Gaza's plight.
The two sides offered conflicting accounts of what happened.
A reporter on one of the boats said the Israelis fired at the vessel before boarding it. Israeli officials said the soldiers were attacked with knives, clubs and iron bars as they boarded the six vessels. The Israeli military said the violence turned deadly after one of the activists grabbed a weapon from one of the commandos. The weapon discharged, though it wasn't clear whether the activist fired it or if it went off accidentally.
"Our initial findings show that at least 10 convoy participants were killed," an Israeli military spokesman said, adding that at least four soldiers were wounded.Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed regret for the deaths. However, he called the aid flotilla a "political provocation" by anti-Israel forces. Barak said the sponsors of the flotilla are violent.
However, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed shock over the incident and called on Israel to "urgently provide a full explanation."
Some 700 pro-Palestinian activists were on the boats, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and an elderly Holocaust survivor.
NBC News reported that 11 Americans were among the civilians aboard the ships. They include a former ambassador and a former State Department official.
"The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained, and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy," White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters.Al-Jazeera TV reported by telephone from the Turkish ship leading the flotilla that Israeli forces fired at the ship and boarded it, wounding the captain. The broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, "Everybody shut up!"
Turkey's NTV network reported that dozens of activists were wounded. France24 television aired video of a woman in a Muslim headdress holding a stretcher with a large bloodstain on it. Below her lay a man, apparently injured, in a blanket.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described the incident as a "massacre," the official Wafa news agency reported.
Abbas, whose Fatah faction lost control of the Gaza Strip in fighting with Hamas in 2007, declared three days of mourning in the Palestinian territories.
Israeli security forces were on alert across the country.
The tough Israeli response drew condemnations from Turkey, France and the U.N.'s Mideast envoy, while Greece suspended a military exercise with Israel and postponed a visit by Israel's air force chief. The European Union called for an investigation into the incident and urged Israel to allow the free flow of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
About 10,000 Turks also marched from Israel's Consulate in Istanbul toward the city's main square, shouting slogans denouncing Israel. The protesters earlier Monday tried storm the Consulate building but were blocked by police.
In response, Israel advised its citizens Monday to avoid travel to Turkey and instructed those already there to keep a low profile.
In neighboring Jordan, hundreds demonstrated in the capital Amman to protest the Israeli action and demand that their government breaks diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, told a news conference that weapons had been found aboard the vessels and described the flotilla as an "armada of hate and violence."
The activists were headed to Gaza on a mission meant to draw attention to a three-year-old Israeli blockade of the coastal territory. Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas militants took power there.
Israel had declared it would not allow the ships to reach Gaza and had offered to transfer the aid to Gaza from an Israeli port. Israeli naval commandos raided the ships while they were in international waters after ordering them to stop about 80 miles from Gaza's coast, according to a pro-Palestinian activist in Greece involved in the aid mission.
A Turkish website showed video of pandemonium on board one of the ships, with people in orange life jackets running around as some tried to help an activist apparently unconscious on the deck. The site also showed video of an Israeli helicopter flying overhead and Israeli warships nearby.
Turkey's NTV showed activists beating one Israeli soldier with sticks as he rappelled from a helicopter onto one of the boats.
Israel had expected the operation to end without bloodshed and had prepared tents in an Israeli port for detainees.
The incident created a diplomatic storm with long-time Muslim ally Turkey, under whose flag some of the six ships were flying.
The Turkish government said it "strongly protested" the military action, calling the interception unacceptable.
"Israel will have to endure the consequences of this behavior," a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said.The flotilla was organized, among others, by a Turkish human rights organization. Turkey had urged Israel to allow it safe passage and said the 10,000 tonnes of aid the convoy was carrying was humanitarian.
Turkey, long Israel's best Muslim ally in a hostile Middle East, was highly critical of Israel's attack on Gaza 18 months ago, in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed.
Relations between the two states are now distinctly chilly and bloodshed at sea will do nothing to improve them.
The six-ship flotilla began the journey from international waters off the coast of Cyprus on Sunday afternoon after two days of delays. It had expected to reach Gaza, about 250 miles away, on Monday afternoon.
After nightfall Sunday, three Israeli navy missile boats left their base in Haifa, steaming out to sea to confront the activists' ships.
Two hours later, Israel Radio broadcast a recording of one of the missile boats warning the flotilla not to approach Gaza.
"If you ignore this order and enter the blockaded area, the Israeli navy will be forced to take all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade," the radio message continued.Al-Jazeera earlier reported that the ships initially changed course to try to avoid a nighttime confrontation, preferring a daylight showdown for better publicity.
The boats are carrying items that Israel bars from reaching Gaza, like cement and other building materials. The activists said they also were carrying hundreds of electric-powered wheelchairs, prefabricated homes and water purifiers.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that after a security check, permitted humanitarian aid confiscated from the boats will be transferred to Gaza through authorized channels. However, Israel would not transfer items it has banned from Gaza under its blockade rules. Palmor said that for example, cement would be allowed only if it is tied to a specific project.
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas militants violently seized control of the seaside territory in June 2007.