Nine die as Israel storms aid ship
31 May, 2010
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis and an emergency session of the UN Security Council.
European nations, as well as the United Nations and Turkey, voiced shock and outrage at the bloody end to the international campaigners’ bid to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Boarding from dinghies and rappelling from helicopters, naval commandos stopped six ships, 700 people and 10,000 tonnes of supplies from reaching the Palestinian enclave — but bloody miscalculation left Israel isolated and condemned.
Once-close Muslim ally Turkey accused it of “terrorism” in international waters. The European Union, a key aid donor to Palestinians, demanded an independent inquiry and an end to the Gaza embargo.
Meanwhile, UN Security Council members on Monday condemned Israel’s attack on a humanitarian flotilla for the Palestinians and urged Israel to end its blockade on the Gaza Strip. In individual statements ahead of a possible official UN Security Council reaction, the 15 council members issued remarks, almost all condemning the Israeli assault.
“It is clearer than ever that Israel’s restrictions on access to Gaza must be lifted in line with Security Council Resolution 1860. The current closure is unacceptable and counterproductive,” British Ambassasdor Mark Lyall Grant said ahead of the emergency session called after the deadly attack.
France, Russia and China — also veto-wielding permanent council members — also called for the blockade to be lifted and for an independent inquiry.The United States, Israel’s traditional ally which often uses its veto power to aid the Jewish state — did not request specifically that Israel end its blockade on the Gaza Strip. But it hinted that the measure at least should be eased.
US deputy permanent representative Alejandro Wolff said Washington was “deeply disturbed by recent violence and regrets tragic loss of life and injuries.Israel’s UN envoy Daniel Carmon, meanwhile, insisted that the flotilla was not on an aid mission.
US President Barack Obama has expressed “deep regret” at the loss of life in Monday’s tragic event with Gaza-bound aid flotilla, which came under a pre-dawn Israeili attack.Obama told Israeli prime minister in a telephonic conversation it was important to learn “all facts and circumstances” around the incident “as soon as possible.”
“The president expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today’s incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals,” the White House said in a statement, following telephonic conversation between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu cancelled his visit to Washington, due on Tuesday, to deal with the crisis after Israeli forces’ attacked Gaza-bound flotilla in international waters, with the incident claiming several lives. Media reports put the death toll between nine to 20.
According to the White House statement, Obama said he “understood the prime minister’s decision to return immediately to Israel to deal with Monday’s events.”“They agreed to reschedule their meeting at the first opportunity,” the statement added.
Citizens and journalists from several countries, including Pakistan, Turkey and Britain were onboard the international humanitarian mission, carrying aid supplies for blockaded Gaza strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his forces had been attacked: “They were mobbed, they were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed, there was even a report of gunfire. And our soldiers had to defend themselves.”
Even after the vessels were escorted into Israel’s Ashdod port, accounts of the pre-dawn operation some 120 km (75 miles) out in the Mediterranean were sketchy and limited to those from the Israeli side. Activists were held incommunicado, though Israeli officials said most would be free to go in due course.
Military night-vision video showed commandos being winched down, only to be surrounded. Some Israeli commentators asked why commanders put troops into a position where they were cornered.In military footage, a commando fired a paintball at a man who seemed to be clubbing an Israeli.
Other video showed a commando fire a pistol, two-handed. “We were prepared to face human rights activists and we found people who came for war,” the marine told reporters. Israeli military officials said nine activists died on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish cruise ship carrying nearly 600 people. Most of the dead were Turks, one senior Israeli officer said. Military officials said some activists had snatched pistols from the boarding party, which responded to gunfire. Seven troops and 20 protesters were injured, the military said. Some officials had earlier put the death toll at 10 or even higher.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has contacted the United Nations for help in ascertaining the whereabouts of Pakistani citizens, who were aboard a Gaza-bound humanitarian mission, which came under Israeli attack in international waters.
Pakistan’s acting ambassador to the UN Amjad Hussain Sial spoke to Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar and requested the UN chief’s assistance in “ascertaining the whereabouts, safety, security and safe return” of three Pakistani media men — Talat Hussain, Raza Mehmood Agha and Nadeem Ahmad Khan.
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is in Kampala, Uganda. The Chef de Cabinet assured the ambassador of UN’s full cooperation and assistance in this regard, Pakistan Mission Spokesman Mian Jehangir Iqbal said. The acting ambassador termed the “unwarranted and unprovoked” action by the Israeli forces a gross violation of international law and all norms of humanity.