Israeli commandos on Monday attacked a high-profile Gaza-bound aid flotilla, killing up to 19 people and triggering in its wake a wave of outrage across the globe.
The convoy of six ships was assaulted in the early hours after commandos slithered down from helicopters and confronted passengers on board, mostly pro-Palestinian activists.
Video footage from the lead ship Mavi Marmara showed Israeli troops storming it as helicopters hovered overhead.
Israel has acknowledged that the flotilla was attacked in international waters, 65 km from the Gaza coast. “This happened in waters outside Israeli territory, but we have the right to defend ourselves,” Israeli spokeswoman Avital Leibovich was quoted as saying.
10,000 tonnes of aid
The ships comprising the flotilla arrived from Britain, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey. Insani Yardim Vakfi (Humanitarian Aid Association), a Turkish, non-governmental organisation had coordinated the relief mission. The 700 passengers on board included a Nobel laureate and several European parliamentarians, concerns about whose safety and wellbeing have caught the attention of the European Union. The convoy was ferrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian relief supplies for Gaza residents who have been reeling under a blockade since the end of Israel's winter war with Hamas in Gaza in 2009.
Justifying its violence, the Israeli military accused “demonstrators on board” of opening fire and wounding four of its soldiers. It said the troops were also attacked with “light weaponry,” including knives and clubs.
Rejecting this view, a correspondent for Al Jazeera satellite television, who was on board, said the passengers did not open fire. On the contrary, they raised a white flag of surrender on the ship ahead of the Israeli assault.
The raid was preceded by the arrival of Israeli naval ships, which flanked the convoy from a distance, but contacted the captain of Mavi Marmara. In order to avoid a confrontation, the organisers apparently diverted the path of the relief ships and reduced speed.
Wave of fury
The unexpected pre-dawn attack by Israel has set off a wave of fury in large parts of the world. Turkey, a one-time ally of Israel, announced it was recalling its Ambassador from Tel Aviv. “Israel will have to endure the consequences of this behaviour,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said. The Arab League advised member countries, to “reconsider” their dealings with Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of carrying out a “massacre.” In Europe, Turkey, Spain, Greece, Denmark and Sweden summoned their Israeli Ambassadors to lodge their protest.
The attack has led to massive street demonstrations in Turkey as thousands in Istanbul marched from the Israeli consulate to the main city square. Many Arab capitals braced for an explosion of street protests in the coming days.