Monday, May 31, 2010

Israeli Commandos Attack Gaza Aid Convoy in International Waters; At Least 19 Reported Killed

Monday, May 31, 2010
15:00 Mecca time, 12:00 GMT

Israel attacks Gaza aid fleet

Al Jazeera's report on board the Mavi Marmara before communications were cut

Israeli forces have attacked a flotilla of aid-carrying ships aiming to break the country's siege on Gaza.

At least 19 people were killed and dozens injured when troops intercepted the convoy of ships dubbed the Freedom Flotilla early on Monday, Israeli radio reported.

The flotilla was attacked in international waters, 65km off the Gaza coast.

Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, confirmed that the attack took place in international waters, saying: "This happened in waters outside of Israeli territory, but we have the right to defend ourselves."

Footage from the flotilla's lead vessel, the Mavi Marmara, showed armed Israeli soldiers boarding the ship and helicopters flying overhead.

Al Jazeera's Jamal Elshayyal, on board the Mavi Marmara, said Israeli troops had used live ammunition during the operation.

The Israeli military said four soldiers had been wounded and claimed troops opened fire after "demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs".

Free Gaza Movement, the organisers of the flotilla, however, said the troops opened fire as soon as they stormed the convoy.

Our correspondent said that a white surrender flag was raised from the ship and there was no live fire coming from the passengers.

Before losing communication with our correspondent, a voice in Hebrew was clearly heard saying: "Everyone shut up".

Israeli intervention

Earlier, the Israeli navy had contacted the captain of the Mavi Marmara, asking him to identify himself and say where the ship was headed.

Shortly after, two Israeli naval vessels had flanked the flotilla on either side, but at a distance.

Organisers of the flotilla carrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid then diverted their ships and slowed down to avoid a confrontation during the night.

They also issued all passengers life jackets and asked them to remain below deck.

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Jerusalem, said the Israeli action was surprising.

"All the images being shown from the activists on board those ships show clearly that they were civilians and peaceful in nature, with medical supplies on board. So it will surprise many in the international community to learn what could have possibly led to this type of confrontation," he said.

Meanwhile, Israeli police have been put on a heightened state of alert across the country to prevent any civil disturbances.

Sheikh Raed Salah,a leading member of the Islamic Movement who was on board the ship, was reported to have been seriously injured. He was being treated in Israel's Tal Hasharon hospital.

In Um Al Faham, the stronghold of the Islamic movement in Israel and the birth place of Salah, preparations for mass demonstrations were under way.


Condemnation has been quick to pour in after the Israeli action.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, officially declared a three-day state of mourning over Monday's deaths.

Turkey, Spain, Greece, Denmark and Sweden have all summoned the Israeli ambassador's in their respective countries to protest against the deadly assault.

Thousands of Turkish protesters tried to storm the Israeli consulate in Istanbul soon after the news of the operation broke. The protesters shouted "Damn Israel" as police blocked them.

"(The interception on the convoy) is unacceptable ... Israel will have to endure the consequences of this behaviour," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, has also dubbed the Israeli action as "barbaric".

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists, including a Nobel laureate and several European legislators, were with the flotilla, aiming to reach Gaza in defiance of an Israeli embargo.

The convoy came from the UK, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey, and was comprised of about 700 people from 50 nationalities.

But Israel had said it would not allow the flotilla to reach the Gaza Strip and vowed to stop the six ships from reaching the coastal Palestinian territory.

The flotilla had set sail from a port in Cyprus on Sunday and aimed to reach Gaza by Monday morning.

Israel said the boats were embarking on "an act of provocation" against the Israeli military, rather than providing aid, and that it had issued warrants to prohibit their entrance to Gaza.

It asserted that the flotilla would be breaking international law by landing in Gaza, a claim the organisers rejected.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Israel boat raid sparks condemnations, protests

AP - Monday, May 31, 2010 4:12:13 AM

Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel and called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council as criticism and condemnations arose across Europe and the Arab world Monday over Israel's deadly commando raid on ships taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

The raid, in which at least 10 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, was a new blow to Israel's international standing at a time when the West -- including the United States -- have grown frustrated with its stance in the peace process. The bloodshed particularly hurts its relations with Turkey, which was once a close regional ally of Israel but has become increasingly critical of it.

Around 10,000 Turks marched in protest from the Israeli consulate in Istanbul to a main square, chanting, "Murderous Israel you will drown in the blood you shed!" The protesters earlier tried to storm the Consulate building but were blocked by police. The flotilla of six ships, carrying some 700 activists, was sponsored in part by a Turkish organization.

Around 1,000 protested in Jordan's capital, Amman, calling for their government to cut diplomatic ties with Israel. Smaller protests erupted in capitals across the Middle East as well as in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, the Greek city of Thessaloniki and the Pakistani city of Karachi.

Palestinian youths protesting the raid scuffled with Israeli soldiers, throwing bottles and stones at them, at a checkpoint north of Jerusalem, as senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the Israeli raid a "war crime."

Israel says the activists attacked its commandos as they boarded the six ships taking tons of supplies to Gaza, while the flotilla's organizers say the Israeli forces opened fire first.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence, saying, "I am shocked by reports of killing of people in boats carrying supply to Gaza. I heard the ships were in international water. That is very bad." He called for a "thorough investigation."

The White House issued a cautious reaction, saying "The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained, and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

The European Union's foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, said the bloc was deeply concerned and she called on Israel to carry out an inquiry.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned "the disproportionate use of force" against the flotilla.

"All light must be shed on the circumstances of this tragedy, which underlines the urgency of resuming peace talks," he said in a statement.

Greece suspended a military exercise with Israel and postponed a visit by Israel's air force chief. Greece, Egypt, Sweden, Spain and Denmark summoned Israel's ambassadors demanding explanations for the violence.

But the strongest reaction came from Turkey. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc called Israel's actions "piracy" and said Turkey is withdrawing its ambassador on Monday as well as canceling three joint military drills and calling on the U.N. Security Council to convene in an emergency session about Israel. Turkey is currently a member of the council.

"I strongly condemn the use of force by Israeli military forces on an aid convoy composed of 32 countries, including Turkey," Arinc said. "This attack must not remain unanswered." He also said a Turkish youth soccer team currently in Israel would be brought home.

The raid also brought heightened attention to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed after the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized control of the tiny Mediterranean territory in 2007. The blockade -- along with Israel's fierce offensive against Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009 to stop Hamas rocket fire -- has fueled anti-Israeli sentiment around the Arab world.

The president of Iran, a key supporter of Hamas, called the raid "an inhuman act."

"All in all, these (actions) only bring closer the end of the miserable and false regime" in Israel, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, according to state TV.

The Cairo-based Arab League called an emergency session for Tuesday to address the attack, as the two only Arab states with peace deals with Israel -- Jordan and Egypt -- sharply condemned the violence. Jordan's information minister, Nabil al-Sharif, called it a "heinous crime" and called for the lifting of the blockade on Gaza.

The incident also put Egypt in a tight position. The only Arab country bordering the Gaza Strip, it has helped enforce the blockade by cracking down on smuggling tunnels that are a key source of goods to Gaza's 1.5 million people and by rejecting pressure that it open its border crossing. The Egyptian government has said it cannot open the border since there is no agreement on restoring European monitors who left during the Hamas takeover.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry said the violence underlines how Gaza "remains under total Israeli occupation," and it called "for the immediate lifting of the Israeli siege on Gaza."

In Beirut, about 500 Palestinian and Lebanese activists protested in front of the U.N. headquarters, setting Israeli flags on fire. "The only solution with the usurping entity is resistance. This entity only understands the language of force," Hezbollah lawmaker Nawar al-Saheli told the crowd.

In neighboring Syria, more than 200 Syrian and Palestinian protesters staged a sit-in before the offices of the United Nations to denounce the Israeli raid.

Keath reported from Cairo. AP correspondents from around the Mideast and Europe contributed to this report.

Monday, May 31, 2010
14:44 Mecca time, 11:44 GMT

Outrage over Israeli attack

The flotilla comprised six ships carrying about 10,000 tonnes of aid for Gaza

Shock and outrage has swept the globe after Israeli soldiers stormed a flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza. International powers are closing ranks in condemning the deadly raid.

Reaction from around the world to Israel's attack:

Statement from the Turkish foreign ministry

The interception on the convoy is unacceptable ... Israel will have to bear the consequences of its actions.

We strongly condemn it and await an immediate explanation.

By targeting innocent civilians, Israel has once again clearly displayed that does not value human lives and peaceful initiatives.

We forcefully condemn these inhumane activities by Israel.

The incident that occurred in open sea which is a gross breach of international law, could cause irrevocable consequences for our relations.

We wish to express our condolences to the bereaved families of the deceased, and swift recovery to the wounded.

Ismail Haniya, Hamas leader in Gaza

The government of Hamas call on Palestinians to carry out a total strike in Gaza and West Bank to show solidarity and protest the Israeli crimes.

We request emergency session for the UN Security Council, Arab League and Islamic Conference and we demand the Palestinian Authority to stop all forms of negotiations.

The government decided to grant those on board Freedom ships the medal of honour.

We appeal to the UN to withdraw from the Quartet.

The government has decided to name the May 31 "the freedom day". We demand the Arab League to carry out all decisions to stop the siege of Gaza.

We say to those heroes that the essence of your honourable blood has reached us before the aids you are carrying to us.

We salute everyone on board the Freedom ships.

Salam Fayad, Palestinian prime minister

Israel went beyond all that could be expected.

This [attack] is a transgression against all international covenants and norms and it must be confronted by all international forums.

Statement from the Palestinian presidency

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the crime perpetrated by the occupation authorities against international solidarity activists aboard the Freedom Flotilla.

The Palestinian leadership is closely following the developments and the President calls on the United Nations to confront Israel, which is disregarding all international laws and norms.

The attack on the Flotilla is an attack against humanity.

This incident will have grave consequences in the region and the world.

Statement from the Arab League

Secretary General Amr Moussa has called for an emergency meeting at the League's headquarters in Cairo on June 1.

The attack clearly shows Israel's aggressive nature and its disrespect to international and humanitarian rules and laws.

We call on the international community to take immediate steps against Israel, a rogue state that practices all forms of terrorism and piracy, and instigates tension and instability in the region and in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.

Saad Hariri, Lebanese prime minister

The Israeli attack on the aid convoy is a dangerous and crazy step that will exacerbate tensions in the region.

Lebanon firmly denounces this attack and calls on the international community, notably major powers ... to take action in order to end this continued violation of human rights and threat to international peace.

Spokesperson for EU's foreign policy chief

High Representative Catherine Ashton expresses her deep regret at the news of loss of life and violence and extends her sympathies to families of the dead and wounded.

On behalf of the European Union she demands a full enquiry about the circumstances in which this happened.

The continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counter-productive. She calls for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of the crossing for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza.

Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister

I am deeply concerned about the events last night in the waters off Gaza ... These are disconcerting initial reports.

The foreign ministry is now working to establish the full facts of what happened.

Diego Lopez Garrido, Spain's secretary of state for EU affairs

The Israeli storming of a flotilla of activist ships heading for Gaza is unacceptable and very serious event.

We have have summoned the Israeli ambassador [to Spain] to give us explanations and, of course, we will investigate and will start handling this matter immediately.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian president

[The attack was an] inhuman Zionist regime action against Gazans.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Emir of Qatar

The Israeli act of piracy against Arab and foreign activists who tried to break an non humanitarian unjust siege imposed on our fellow citizens in Gaza Strip, for no reason but they exercised their democratic right of choice.

The crimes purportrated this morning against the civilians supporting the Palestinians remind us of the unjust siege the open bleeding wound in the Strip; and all those who preach freedom, justice and democracy are required now to move and act to break this siege so the bloods of those free men do not go down the drains.

This is also message addressed to the Arab states who were brought to the moment of justice by those free men on board.

Micheal Martin, Irish foreign affairs minister

I am gravely concerned at the reports emerging of the storming of a Turkish ship this morning by Israeli commandos.

My department is seeking to establish the full facts of what has occurred and confirm the safety of the eight Irish nationals who sailed with theTurkish-led flotilla.

The reports of up to 15 people killed and 50 injured, if confirmed, would constitute a totally unacceptable response by the Israeli military to what was a humanitarian mission attempting to deliver much needed supplies to the people of Gaza.

Statement from Britain's Stop The War Coalition

The action should see Israel condemned under international law.

Israel has repeatedly flouted law and public opinion worldwide in its treatment of the Palestinians.

The decision by Israel to attack the flotilla with such loss of human life shows it is arrogant and deadly intent in opposing any aid to the Palestinians.

Navi Pillay, UN high commissioner for human rights

I am shocked by reports that humanitarian aid was met with violence early this morning reportedly causing death and injury as the boat convoy approached the Gaza coast.

The blockade keeps undermining human rights on a daily basis.

The current situation falls far short of what is necessary for the population to lead normal and dignified lives.

I condemn once again the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel.

Franco Frattini, Italian foreign minister

Italy deplores the loss of civilian life in Israel's raid on a flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza.

Statement from the UN Relief and Works Agency

We are shocked by reports of killings and injuries of people on board boats carrying supplies for Gaza, apparently in international waters.

Such tragedies are entirely avoidable if Israel heeds the repeated calls of the international community to end its counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza.

William Hague, British foreign secretary

I deplore the loss of life during the interception of the Gaza Flotilla. Our embassy is in urgent contact with the Israeli government. We are asking for more information and urgent access to any UK nationals involved.

We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way, because of the risks involved. But at the same time, there is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations. It will be important to establish the facts about this incident, and especially whether enough was done to prevent deaths and injuries.

This news underlines the need to lift the restrictions on access to Gaza, in line with UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1860. The closure is unacceptable and counter-productive.

There can be no better response from the international community to this tragedy than to achieve urgently a durable resolution to the Gaza crisis.

I call on the government of Israel to open the crossings to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza, and address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians.

We'll be live-blogging the aftermath of this incident throughout the day; keep checking back for international reaction.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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