Nineteen activists killed by Israeli commandos aboard aid convoy bound for Gaza

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Freedom Flotilla banner.
Image: Freegazaorg - Flickr.

Between nine and nineteen Free Gaza Movement activists died today in international waters when Israeli Defense Force commandos boarded vessels attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Benjamin Netanyahu gave the death toll to be at least 10. Israeli television says that 19 people were killed and 36 were wounded in the confrontation.

The six vessels, called the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, were carrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid destined for the Gaza Strip, including water purifiers, prefabricated homes and medical equipment. Passengers include several European members of parliament and MPs from Germany, Belgium, Algeria and Israel.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that "the organizers are well-known for their ties with global jihad, al-Qaida and Hamas. They have a history of arms smuggling and deadly terror." The Israeli military had declared it would not allow the ships to reach Gaza and said the activists were a "provocation intended to delegitimise Israel". The Israeli Navy had been transmitting messages throughout the night ordering them to turn back, stating: "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," and that the Gaza region was a protected military zone.

Huwaida Arraf, one of the organizers, had said that the flotilla was "fully prepared for the different scenarios" that might arise, and organizers were hopeful that Israeli authorities would "do what's right" and not stop the convoy. She said, "we fully intend to go to Gaza regardless of any intimidation of threats of violence against us," and that "they are going to have to forcefully stop us."

The pre-dawn boarding took place in international waters around 150 kilometres (90 miles) off the coast of Gaza. Footage from on the flotilla's lead vessel, the MV Mavi Marmara, and video released by the IDF, showed armed Israeli commandos boarding the ship from helicopters and fighting with activists. According to the Israel Defense Forces, the activists attacked the commandos with batons, knives and axes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said;

Cquote1.svg They were mobbed. They were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed. There was even a report of gunfire and our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives or they would have been killed. Cquote2.svg

A spokesman for the flotilla, Greta Berlin accused Israeli troops of indiscriminately shooting at "unarmed civilians". Israel said troops found weapons aboard the Gaza flotilla which were used against the IDF. The allegations were rejected by both the Free Gaza Movement, IHH and Egypt's foreign minister, who said the boats had been searched before they left port.

Cquote1.svg The images are certainly not pleasant. I can only voice regret at all the fatalities Cquote2.svg

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer Israeli trade and industry minister.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon said he was "shocked by reports of killings and injuries of people on boats carrying supplies for Gaza" and called for "a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place" and urged Israel to "urgently provide a full explanation". Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' called for three days of mourning to commemorate what he called the "massacre" of protesters. Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, has dubbed the Israeli action as "a crime".

Turkey's prime minister describes Israeli raid as 'state terrorism' and said Israel violated international laws. Some of the ships were sailing under Turkish flags and media reports indicate that Turkish nationals are among the dead. Turkey demanded an "urgent explanation" from Israel and warned of "irreparable consequences" after the incident. Netanyahu said the raid was self defense. Turkey is withdrawing its ambassador to Israel and is calling on the U.N. Security Council to convene in an emergency session about Israel.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has called on Israeli authorities to launch a "full inquiry" into the killing. She "reiterates the European Union's position regarding Gaza - the continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive." Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was "deeply concerned" and France said "nothing can justify" the incident. Sweden, Austria, Greece and Spain have said it was important to "quickly establish" what happened, and have summoned the Israeli ambassadors.

Gaza flotilla clash demonstration in Belfast.

The British Foreign Secretary William Hague has called on the Government of Israel to open all crossings for aid to enter Gaza and said Israel should "address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians‪." Russia calls attention to the fact that the Israeli interception of a Gaza-bound international aid flotilla took place in international waters, which it said represents a gross violation of international law.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek has urged the international Middle East mediators Russia, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union to persuade Israel to end its blockade of Gaza. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Europe. In Greece and France there was clashes with police. There were protests in cities around the Ireland, UK and Italy. In the Middle East there were protests in Turkey, Lebanon and Iran.

The White House said that the United States "deeply regrets" the loss of life and injuries and was working to understand the circumstances surrounding this "tragedy". The Organization of the Islamic Conference, comprising of 57 countries, described the flotilla incident as "a serious escalation and a flagrant violation of the international law and human values."

The media has not been given access to the politicians, activists and journalists who were in the convoy or information about deaths and injuries. Israeli Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld police say it will deport the roughly 50 of the 671 activists in the flotilla except those who refuse to cooperate. The other activists have been sent to jail in the southern desert town of Beersheba after refusing to identify themselves and will remain in detention.

Irishman Dennis Halliday, a former assistant secretary general of the United Nations and the Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, are aboard the only boat left in the convoy, the Irish MV Rachel Corrie vessel, named after Rachel Corrie. The vessel is now on the way to the Gaza Strip. The Irish Prime Minister Mr Cowen said he believed Israel’s blockade of humanitarian assistance to Gaza was illegal under international law.


Sources

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