10 dead as Israeli forces storm Gaza aid convoy
May 31, 2010 by TMO
By the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) — International condemnation poured in Monday after Israeli soldiers stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid intended for Palestinians in Gaza, leaving at least 10 people dead in the resulting violence.
Israel claimed it was defending itself, with the Israel Defense Forces saying the soldiers’ lives were in danger after they were attacked with “severe physical violence, including live fire, weapons, knives and clubs.”
IDF spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibowitz said light weapons and handguns were confiscated. “We basically encountered a lynch,” she said. “We had to control this violence.”
But other nations condemned the military action and called for an investigation.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said the United States “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy.”
The Spanish and French governments called the action “disproportionate.” The Italian foreign minister asked the European Union to investigate, and several nations, including Greece and Sweden, were summoning their Israeli ambassadors.
An indignant Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel, canceled three planned military exercises with the Israeli military and called home its youth national football team, which had two games scheduled in Israel, said Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc.
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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Chile, but will return after meeting with the Chilean president, Arinc said. The chief of the Turkish military was cutting short a trip to Egypt. The Turkish foreign minister, in Venezuela, was calling the United Nations Security Council to an emergency meeting, Arinc said.
“This operation will leave a bloody stain on the history of humanity,” Arinc said. A Turkish group, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation or IHH, was one of the organizers of the flotilla, but people from various nations were aboard.
In a statement, Bahrain called it a “barbaric attack” on the part of Israel.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, an envoy for the Middle East Quartet, a group of nations working toward peace in the region, said in a statement Monday: “There obviously has to be a full investigation into what has happened. Once again I repeat my view that we need a different and better way of helping the people of Gaza and avoiding the hardship and tragedy that is inherent in the present situation.”
Current Foreign Minister William Hague said: “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.”
“This operation will leave a bloody stain on the history of humanity.
–Turkish Deputy PM Bulent Arinc
Five Israeli soldiers were wounded, the military said. The ships of the flotilla were being taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod, according to IDF.
The Free Gaza Movement, one of the groups sponsoring the flotilla, disputed Israel’s claim of violence by people aboard the ships.
“At about 4:30 am, Israeli commandos dropped from a helicopter onto deck of Turkish ship, immediately opened fire on unarmed civilians,” said a post on the group’s Twitter page.
Video aired on CNN sister network CNN Turk showed soldiers abseiling onto the deck of a ship from a helicopter above. The boarding of the ships took place more than 70 nautical miles outside Israeli territorial waters, according to IHH.
The Turkish foreign ministry said the incident “might cause irreversible consequences” in the nation’s relationship with Israel.
“They wanted to make a political statement. They wanted violence.
–Israeli spokesman Mark Regev
“Israel has once again clearly demonstrated that it does not value human lives and peaceful initiatives through targeting innocent civilians,” the statement said. “We strongly condemn these inhuman acts of Israel.”
Meanwhile, a protest that began outside the Israeli embassy in Istanbul on Sunday continued into Monday. Although largely peaceful, police did use water cannons at one point to keep demonstrators at bay. Israel issued a “serious travel warning” for Israelis visiting Turkey. Those planning to travel to Turkey were asked to postpone their trip, while those in Turkey were advised to stay indoors.
The Israeli PM office has issues a serious travel warning for Israeli travelers visiting Turkey. The warning calls Israelis who are about to travel into Turkey to postpone their trip and for Israelis in Turkey to remain indoors and avoid presence in the city centers.
In Gaza, where the flotilla was headed, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called for global support of the Palestinian cause.
“The Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla is an ugly crime and against international law and this reflects the nature of the criminal Israeli occupation,” Zuhri said. “We call upon the free world Arab and Muslim world to stand in support and help and support the international activists who have been subjected to killing in the middle of the sea.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for three days of mourning in the Palestinian territories to honor the lives lost.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev accused the leaders of the flotilla of looking for a fight.
“They wanted to make a political statement. They wanted violence,” according to Regev, who said Israel wanted a peaceful interception of the ships trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. “They are directly responsible for the violence and the deaths that occurred.”
The convoy of boats approached Gaza in defiance of an Israeli blockade and had been shadowed by three Israeli warships. Free Gaza had reported Sunday that they had been contacted by the Israeli navy.
The boats left European ports in a consolidated protest organized by two pro-Palestinian groups to deliver tons of food and other aid to Gaza to break a blockade imposed by Israel in 2007.
The maritime convoys were organized by both the Free Gaza Movement and the IHH, a humanitarian relief foundation affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood religious group.
Israel said Sunday that Western and Turkish authorities have accused IHH of having “working relations” with different terrorist organizations.
CNN’s Ben Wedeman in Cairo, Egypt, and Ivan Watson in Istanbul, Turkey, contributed to this report.