Israel has confirmed that at least 10 people died after Israeli commandos stormed a convoy carrying aid to the Gaza Strip. The incident has sparked an international outcry, and Israel's PM Netanyahu has decided to cancel his US trip to return home.
Israeli forces intercepted a flotilla of boats carrying humanitarian aid bound for Gaza in a pre-dawn raid Monday that killed at least 10 people, according to the Israeli military.
The deadly military operation on a high-profile international aid mission has sparked international outrage and threatened diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey.
The six-ship flotilla was carrying 10,000 tons of aid for Gaza when it was intercepted in international waters about 65km off the Gaza coast Monday morning.
Communications with the international delegation on board the ships were cut shortly after the operation began. But video footage showed armed Israeli commandos arriving on deck in the early morning hours, as well as wounded people wearing orange life vests. A woman was seen holding a blood-stained stretcher.
The daily challenges faced by Gazans
“We have had no contact with the members of our delegation since 3:30am,” Adnane Ben Youssef, a spokesman for the Paris-based International Civil Campaign for the Protection of Palestinians (CCIPPP), told FRANCE 24.
The flotilla left the island of Cyprus Sunday evening, ignoring Israel’s warnings that the convoy would be blocked and prevented from reaching Gaza. Representatives of the international aid mission said the goal was to deliver the aid to 1.5 million Gazans who have been living under an Israeli blockade since 2007.
‘This is a massacre’
Hours after the operation began, conflicting reports of the military raid emerged.
Israeli military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich told FRANCE 24 that Israeli soldiers were immediately assaulted with knives and sticks as they boarded the vessels, in a well-planned attack by the activists. “This is not a human rights organisation,” she said, adding that pistols had been found during a search of the ships.
In a statement released earlier Monday, the Israeli army said its commandos had been fired upon and had met “violent resistance” on the Mavi Marmara ferry, the largest vessel in the convoy.
But organisers of the aid convoy disputed Israeli accounts. In an interview with FRANCE 24 early Monday, Greta Berlin, a spokesperson for the Free Gaza Movement in Cyprus, said the activists on board were unarmed.
“We have no contact with our members, because Israel has blocked all satellite communications,” said Berlin. “The only evidence we have is thanks to the video that was broadcast live from the Turkish ship. These images show that Israeli commandos arrived by helicopter, landing on the deck and opening fire. This is not a confrontation, this is a massacre. We have no weapons. We are standing there with our backpacks and jeans and we have been attacked, it’s not the other way around.”
International condemnation, Turkish outrage
The news of the deadly Israeli military operation on a high-profile international aid mission sparked shock and outrage in the international community – notably in Turkey, NATO's sole Muslim-majority member nation.
A Turkish foreign ministry spokesman said Ankara would recall its ambassador to Israel as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cut short a Latin America visit to return to Turkey.
The White House said it deeply regretted the loss of life, adding that it was working to "understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."
outrage follows ship raid
Protests broke out outside the Israeli consulate in the main Turkish city of Istanbul Monday, with demonstrators burning Israeli flags. Reporting from the Turkish capital of Ankara, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer said the incident in the Mediterranean Sea threatened to result in severed ties between Israel and Turkey.
“The end of military cooperation [with Turkey] could hurt Israel more than any trade sanctions,” added Mortimer.
Later Monday, Turkey’s deputy defence minister said Ankara would cancel three joint Israeli-Turkish military exercises.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cut short his official trip to Canada and the US to return home, and will not be meeting US President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday as originally planned.
The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, called the Israeli high-seas raid a “massacre”, while Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, called for protests outside Israeli embassies and consulates.
Israeli police said that its security personnel were on high alert.
Reacting to the news, French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned Israel’s “disproportionate” use of force on the aid flotilla.
Date created : 2010-05-31