– 2010-06-02 00:48:27
Israel Accused of State Terrorism after Assault on Flotilla Carrying Gaza Aid
Harriet Sherwood / The Guardian
ASHDOD (May 31, 2010) — Israel was engulfed by a wave of global condemnation tonight after a botched assault on a flotilla carrying aid and supplies to the Gaza Strip ended in carnage and a diplomatic crisis involving the UN security council.
At least nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed as Israeli naval commandos stormed the largest ship in the flotilla carrying passengers. Dozens more were wounded and evacuated by helicopter to Israeli coastal hospitals.
Israel said more than 10 of its troops were injured, two seriously, in the battle that began early yesterday morning in international waters, about 40 miles from the coast of Gaza.
The UN security council was due to meet tonight in emergency session and Turkey, whose relations with Israel have been severely strained since the war in Gaza in 2008-9, called for Nato to convene over the military assault.
The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who ordered the recall of the country’s ambassador to Israel, described the operation as “state terrorism” and said Israel had violated international law. “We are not going to remain silent in the face of this inhumane state terrorism,” he said.
Israel immediately imposed a communications blackout on the detained activists while simultaneously launching a sophisticated public relations operation to ensure its version of events was dominant. Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who defended the assault, put off a meeting with US president Barack Obama at the White House scheduled for tomorrow to fly back to deal with the crisis.
Activists with less serious injuries began to trickle into Israeli hospitals late this afternoon. There were believed to be about 27 British civilians aboard the flotilla. Most of the dead were reported to be Turkish nationals.
The deaths and injuries were condemned by the UN, EU and other countries. The US, in contrast, was initially restrained in its response, expressing regret and saying it was “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy”.
UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, condemned the violence and called for an investigation. “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.”
The foreign secretary, William Hague, issued a statement “deploring” the loss of life. “There is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations,” he said.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, described the storming of the flotilla as a “massacre” and called for three days of national mourning. Israel’s navy had promised to exercise restraint in dealing with the flotilla, and the bloodshed will inevitably leave Israel open to charges of a disproportionate response involving excessive force.
The government, however, was robust in defending its actions, saying its troops had been provoked and attacked by activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, the biggest of the passenger-carrying ships in the flotilla.
However, some Israeli commentators expressed reservations about the operation, fearing that it would leave Israel internationally isolated. Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey, told the Guardian the situation could have been averted. “Definitely we made mistakes and in retrospect anything would have been better Â– including letting the boats reach Gaza,” he said.
The assault began at 4.30am as the convoy was heading to Gaza to deliver its cargo of aid. According to a spokeswoman for Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Avital Leibovich, officers aboard its warships gave the activists several warnings before commandos were winched from helicopters on to the deck of the Mavi Marmara.
“We found ourselves in the middle of a lynching,” she told reporters in the Israeli port of Ashdod. Around 10 activists attacked commandos, she said, relieving them of their pistols.
“We didn’t look for confrontation but it was a massive attack,” she said. “What happened was a last resort.”
It was impossible to contact protesters on the ships, but the Free Gaza Movement, one of the organisers of the flotilla, said the IDF had started the violence, firing as soon as they boarded the ship. Leibovich defended Israel’s action in international waters, saying it was permissible when a country’s security was threatened.
The Mavi Marmara was brought into port at Ashdod, 23 miles north of Gaza City, tonight following the earlier arrival of two other passenger ships. The area was closed to the media.
Activists were expected to be processed in a large white tent on the quayside, where they would be offered the choice of immediate deportation to their country of origin or going through the lengthy process of the Israeli courts system.
The Israeli authorities gave no details of the injuries to activists. It confirmed that nine were dead, although government sources suggested the figure could rise
The flotilla was trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has been enforced for the past three years.
Israel advised its nationals in Turkey to leave the country for fear of reprisals. A luxury liner, Magic 1, was diverted from the Turkish coast to Cyprus.
Israeli police cancelled leave and the army was on high alert, saying it feared possible rocket attacks from Islamist militants in Gaza and southern Lebanon.
Criminal Attack on Gaza Aid Fleet
(May 31, 2010) — The attack by the Israelis on a flotilla of ships bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza is outrageous. The six Freedom Flotilla ships were in international waters, had cleared customs in four different nations, and were on a peaceful mission to bring desperately needed food and medical aid to the Gaza Palestinians, who have suffered under an Israeli blockade for three years now.
The casualty count is at least 20 civilian deaths and 50 injuries. Furthermore, the Israelis have arrested and incarcerated an unknown number of aid activists, taking them to a jail in the southern Israeli desert.
Reports indicate that the Israeli commandos came on board and opened fire. The aid activists attempted to defend themselves with knives, sticks and iron rods.
Various international leaders have condemned the violence, and Israeli ambassadors in several nations have been called in to explain the unprovoked attack.
The Turkish Prime Minister described it as an act of state terror.
UN General Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he was “shocked” and demanded a full investigation.
German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said, “The German government is shocked by events in the international waters by GazaÂ….”
Greek deputy foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas said, “There is no excuse. The level of violence cannot be excused Â… we condemn it and this is exactly the message I conveyed this morning to the Israeli ambassador.”
Uri Avnery, an Israeli journalist, wrote: “This night a crime was perpetrated in the middle of the sea, by order of the government of Israel and the IDF Command A warlike attack against aid ships and deadly shooting at peace and humanitarian aid activists It is a crazy thing that only a government that crossed all red lines can do.” (Gush Shalom)
And Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg made the most important point of all: “This underlines that the blockade of Gaza should be ended as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg told reporters. “This type of military action is unacceptable. The shootings must be investigated and documented. It is clear that this is a use of force against civilians.”
Even if the Israelis had not intended to allow the Freedom Flotilla to dock, they could have found other ways of stopping it. They could have entangled the propellers (as has been previously done in similar operations), or surrounded and blockaded the fleet. These would still have been criminal actions, but that has never stopped Israel in the past, and at least there would have been no loss of life.
This action by Israel is a crime, plain and simple. Those who sanctioned it and those who perpetrated it have committed murder on the high seas.
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