Israel has committed a brutal military attack on the Freedom Flotilla that was bringing humanitarian aid to the blockaded people of Gaza. Hawai’i resident Ann Wright, a retired Army Colonel, former diplomat and tireless peace and justice activist, was on one of the ships in the flotilla. We are not certain of her whereabouts, but have been told that she is alive and apparently unharmed physically. The whole world should condemn Israel for this atrocity. The U.S. must cut off military aid to Israel. Demand that the Hawai’i congressional delegation support sanctions against Israel for this crime. Senator Inouye has been a staunch supporter of military aid to Israel, but even he cannot ignore the criminal conduct of the Israeli government.
Deadly Israeli raid on aid fleet
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin reports from Jerusalem on the storming of the flotilla and its aftermath
Israeli commandos have attacked a flotilla of aid-carrying ships off the coast of the Gaza Strip, killing at least nine people on board.
Dozens of others were injured when troops raided the convoy of six ships, dubbed the Freedom Flotilla, early on Monday.
Israel said activists on board attacked its commandos as they boarded the ships, while the flotilla’s organisers said the Israeli forces opened fire first, as soon as they stormed the convoy.
Organisers of the Freedom Flotilla say it was carrying 700 activists and 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid with the aim of breaking the Israeli siege of Gaza.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, gave his “full backing” to the military forces after the raid.
The raid by Israel troops “was to prevent the infiltration of thousands of rockets, missiles and other arms that could hit our cities, communities or people”, he said.
“I give my complete backing to the army, the soldiers and commanders who acted to defend the state and to protect their lives.” He also said Israel regretted the loss of life in the raid.
Israeli media reported that many of the dead were Turkish nationals.
Hamas, the Palestinian group which governs the Gaza Strip, said the assault was a “massacre” and called on the international community to intervene.
The Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, urged Arabs and Muslims to show their anger by staging protests outside Israeli embassies across the globe.
The call came even as demonstrations denouncing the Israeli raid were being held in many cities around the world, including the capitals of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
Thousands of Turkish protesters tried to storm the Israeli consulate in Istanbul soon after the news of the operation broke.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, officially declared a three-day state of mourning.
The United Nations Security Council met on Monday afternoon for an emergency session to discuss the matter.
Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the chief foreign policy official of the UN, called on Israel to end its “counterproductive” and “unacceptable” blockade of Gaza.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, on board the flotilla’s lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, said in his last report before communications were cut off, that Israeli troops used live ammunition during the assault.
The Israeli military, 10 of whose soldiers were reportedly wounded in the operation, said troops opened fire after “demonstrators on board attacked the IDF naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs”.
Our correspondent said that a white surrender flag was raised from the ship and there was no live fire coming from the passengers.
Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the aid ships were taken after the assault, said the Israeli army was not giving any details of who had been killed, injured or detained.
“As soon as [the ships] land here, the goods [will be] taken [and] put into a terminal, and the passengers [made to] undergo extensive security checks,” she said.
“[They will be] given the choice either to go home straight away, in which case they will be taken to Tel Aviv airport. Or if they resist deportation, they will be taken to a nearby detention centre where, we understand, they will [remain] for at least 72 hours.”
More than 80 activists had been detained by mid-evening, Sabine Hadad, the spokeswoman for Israel’s immigration police, told AFP.
“So far, 83 have been detained, of whom 25 have agreed to be deported. The rest are going to jail,” she said.
Hadad said the Israeli authorities were expecting “hundreds more” arrests through the night.
Defending Monday’s military raid, Mark Regev, the Israeli government spokesperson, said the Israeli commandos came under fire from people on board the flotilla whom he branded as “violent extremists”.
“Israel was totally within its rights under international law to intercept the ship and to take it to the port of Ashdod,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Unfortunately they were met by the activists on the boats with deadly violence, knives, metal clubs, even live fire on our service people. They initiated the violence.”
He said the people on board the flotilla were not peaceful activists.
“They are part of the IHH, which is a radical Turkish Islamist organisation which has been investigated by Western governments and by the Turkish government itself in the past for their links with terrorist organisations.”
But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, said the flotilla was carefully inspected before departure that there was no one on board “other than civilian volunteers.
“I want to say to the world, to the heads of state and the governments, that these boats that left from Turkey and other countries were checked in a strict way under the framework of the rules of international navigation and were only loaded with humanitarian aid,” he said.
Murat Mercan, the head of Turkey’s foreign relations committee, said claiming that activists on board had links to terrorist organisations was Israel’s way of covering up its mistake.
“Any allegation that the members of this ship is attached to al-Qaeda is a big lie because there are Israeli civilians, Israeli authorities, Israeli parliamentarians on board the ship,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Does he [Regev] think that those are also attached to al-Qaeda?”
The flotilla was attacked in international waters, 65km off the Palestinian coastal enclave.
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.”
Mark Taylor, an international legal expert, told Al Jazeera that every state, including Israel, has the right to self-defence.
“In situations in which the state feels that it needs to take an act in international waters to defend itself, it will do that,” he said.
“But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s legal under international law.
“In this case, we’re looking at a humanitarian aid convoy, with prominent people and activists, clearly not a military target in any way whatsoever.”
‘Dire need of aid’
Israel said the flotilla boats were embarking on “an act of provocation” against the Israeli military rather than providing aid, and issued warrants to prohibit their entrance to Gaza.
But Adnan Abu-Hasana, a spokesman for UNRWA, said the Gazans are in dire need of aid after Israel’s war on the territory in December 2008-January 2009 destroyed buildings and infrastructure.
“We need hundreds of thousands of tonnes [of aid] to rebuild Gaza,” he told Al Jazeera.
“We need more of building materials … We need spare parts for machines in the agricultural and industrial sectors, for the fishermen, all these sectors are nearly collapsed.
“Eighty per cent of the Gazans are dependent on humanitarian aid coming from UN organisations such as UNRWA.”
Deadly Israeli Raid on Aid Flotilla Draws Condemnation
By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: May 31, 2010
JERUSALEM — The deadly Israeli raid on a flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza on Monday prompted widespread condemnation and set off a diplomatic crisis for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Several European nations and Turkey summoned Israeli envoys for an explanation of the actions. At the request of Turkey, The United Nations Security Council met in emergency session on Monday over the attack, which occurred in international waters north of Gaza and killed at least nine people.
Mr. Netanyahu canceled his plans to meet with President Obama in Washington on Tuesday, an Israeli government official confirmed. Mr. Netanyahu, who is visiting Canada, planned to return home Monday to deal with fallout from the raid, the official said.
The White House, which had been at odds with the Israeli prime minister over settlements in East Jerusalem, released a statement saying that President Obama had spoken with Mr. Netanyahu and understood his need to return immediately to Israel. In addition to regrets about the loss of life, “the president also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible,” the statement said.
The criticism offered a propaganda coup to Israel’s foes, particularly Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in Gaza, and damaged Israel’s ties to Turkey, one of its most important Muslim partners and the unofficial sponsor of the convoy. As thousands of protesters took to the streets of Istanbul, Turkey canceled joint military exercises with Israel and recalled its ambassador, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the raid “state terrorism.”
Mr. Netanyahu defended the Israeli military’s actions, saying the commandos were set upon by passengers on the ship and fired only in self-defense. The military released a video of the early moments of the raid to support that claim.
The Israeli Defense Forces said the naval personnel boarding the largest of the six ships in the aid convoy met with “live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs.” The naval forces then “employed riot dispersal means, including live fire,” the military said in a statement.
Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus, rejected the military’s version.
“That is a lie,” she said, adding that it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been “waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might.”
“We never thought there would be any violence,” she said.
At least four Israeli soldiers were wounded in the operation, some from gunfire, according to the military. Television footage from the flotilla before communications were cut showed what appeared to be commandos sliding down ropes from helicopters onto one of the vessels in the flotilla, while Israeli high-speed naval vessels surrounded the convoy.
A military statement said two activists were later found with pistols they had taken from Israeli commandos. The activists, the military said, had apparently opened fire “as evident by the empty pistol magazines.”
The warships first intercepted the convoy of cargo and passenger boats shortly before midnight on Sunday, according to activists on one vessel. Israel had vowed not to let the flotilla reach the shores of Gaza.
Named the Freedom Flotilla and led by the Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi, the convoy was the most ambitious attempt yet to break Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza.
About 600 passengers were said to be aboard the vessels, including the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire of Northern Ireland.
“What we have seen this morning is a war crime,” said Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator for the government in the West Bank. “These were civilian ships carrying civilians and civilian goods — medicine, wheelchairs, food, construction materials.”
“What Israel does in Gaza is appalling,” he added. “No informed and decent human can say otherwise.”
At a news conference on Monday in Jerusalem, Israeli deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said the flotilla’s intent was “not to transfer humanitarian things to Gaza” but to break the Israeli blockade.
“This blockade is legal,” he said, “and aimed at preventing the infiltration of terror and terrorists into Gaza.”
Ms. Berlin, of the Free Gaza Movement, said, “They attacked us this morning in international waters. According to the coordinates, we were 70 miles off the Israeli coast.”
Within hours, diplomatic repercussions began to spread from the Mediterranean to Europe, where Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, called for a full inquiry into the incident and the immediate lifting of the Israeli blockade.
A joint statement from Robert Serry and Filippo Grandi, two senior United Nations officials involved in the Middle East peace process and humanitarian aid to Gaza, condemned the raid, which they said was “apparently in international waters.”
“We wish to make clear that such tragedies are entirely avoidable if Israel heeds the repeated calls of the international community to end its counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza,” the officials said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France called Israel’s use of force “disproportionate,” while William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said he deplored the loss of life. Tony Blair, the representative of the so-called quartet of powers seeking a Middle East settlement, said in a statement that he expressed “deep regret and shock at the tragic loss of life.”
“We need a different and better way of helping the people of Gaza and avoiding the hardship and tragedy that is inherent in the current situation,” the statement said. The quartet includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. In London, hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters blocked Whitehall, the broad avenue running past the prime minister’s residence and office at 10 Downing Street.
Turkey strongly condemned the Israeli military action.
“Regardless of any reasoning, such actions against civilians engaged in only peaceful activities are unacceptable,” said a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s Web site on Monday. “Israel will be required to face the consequences of this act that involves violation of the international law.”
Murat Mercan, the head of the Turkish Grand National Asembly’s foreign affairs commission, said on television, “Israel launched this operation in international waters and to a ship flagged white, which is unacceptable under any clause of the international law.”
He added, “We are going to see in the following days whether Israel has done it as a display of decisiveness or to commit political suicide.”
Thousands of protesters gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, chanting anti-Israeli slogans and repeating Islamic verses while government officials called for calm and urged demonstrators to avoid retaliation against Israeli nationals. Protesters met in front of the Israeli Consulate earlier and marched toward the square carrying a banner that read, “Zionist Embassy should close down,” and chanting slogans including “Damn Israel” and “Long live global intifada.”
Crowds also gathered outside the Ankara residence of Gabi Levi, the Israeli ambassador, who was summoned to the Foreign Ministry. Protests broke out in Iraq as well.
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General, said he was “shocked” by the attack. “I condemn this violence,” Mr. Ban told news conference in Kampala, Uganda. “It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place. I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.”
News reports said the authorities in Egypt and Jordan, two Arab neighbors which have peace treaties with Israel, had summoned Israeli envoys to protest the action.
The outcry from Muslim leaders was strong and immediate. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, called the incident “a massacre,” according to the official Wafa news agency. Mr. Abbas is to meet with President Obama in Washington next week.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, called for “the strongest reaction possible” from the Security Council, saying it cannot let Israel get away “for the thousandth time” with ignoring international law. “It cannot act like it is a country above international law,” Mr. Mansour told reporters.
Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, denounced the raid as “a dangerous and crazy step that will exacerbate tensions in the region,” while the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said it was “inhuman.”
Channel 10, a private television station in Israel, quoted the Israeli trade minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, as saying 14 to 16 people had been killed. He said on Israeli Army Radio that commandos boarded the ships by sliding down on ropes from a hovering helicopter and were then struck by passengers with “batons and tools.”
“The moment someone tries to snatch your weapon, to steal your weapons, that’s where you begin to lose control,” Mr. Ben-Eliezer said, according to Reuters.
Jamal el-Shayyal, a reporter from the television broadcaster Al Jazeera, was on board the Mavi Marmara, the largest of the six ships, during the assault. He said in a video report that dozens of civilians had been injured in the fighting.
The I.D.F. said the ships from the convoy would be taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod, north of Gaza, where “naval forces will perform security checks in order to identify the people on board the ships and their equipment.”
On Sunday, three Israeli Navy missile boats had left the Haifa naval base in northern Israel a few minutes after 9 p.m. local time, planning to intercept the flotilla. After asking the captains of the boats to identify themselves, the navy told them they were approaching a blockaded area and asked them either to proceed to Ashdod or return to their countries of origin.
The activists responded that they would continue toward their destination, Gaza.
Speaking by satellite phone from the Challenger 1 boat, which has foreign legislators and other high-profile figures on board, a Free Gaza Movement leader, Huwaida Arraf, said: “We communicated to them clearly that we are unarmed civilians. We asked them not to use violence.”
Earlier Sunday, Ms. Arraf said the boats would keep trying to move forward “until they either disable our boats or jump on board.”
Reporting contributed by Sebnem Arsu in Istanbul, Alan Cowell in London, Steven Erlanger in Paris and Neil MacFarquhar .