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Updated: May 31, 2010 21:36 IST

Israel faces barrage of criticism over Gaza flotilla deaths

DPA
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A Palestinian swims while holding a Palestinian flag during a protest against Israel's interception of Gaza-bound ships at Gaza's seaport in Gaza City, on Monday. Photo: AP.
A Palestinian swims while holding a Palestinian flag during a protest against Israel's interception of Gaza-bound ships at Gaza's seaport in Gaza City, on Monday. Photo: AP.

Governments around the world on Monday condemned an early morning Israeli attack on a fleet of boats carrying 700 pro—Palestinian peace activists and 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, in which at least 10 people died.

Protests broke out across the Middle East and Europe, including in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Britain and Turkey, from where the largest of the ships taking part in the convey originated. Nine of those killed were Turkish, Al—Jazeera reported.

The European Union and the United Nations demanded a full explanation for the attack.

EU foreign policy director Catherine Ashton “deeply regrets the loss of life” and was “requesting a full and immediate inquiry by the Israeli authorities,” a European Commission spokesman said.

The Spanish EU presidency said it was an “unacceptable” and “very serious” event.

“We have have summoned the Israeli ambassador (to Spain) to give us explanations and, of course, we will investigate and will start handling this matter immediately,” said Diego Lopez Garrido, secretary of state for EU affairs.

Israeli ambassadors summoned

Israeli ambassadors were also summoned to give explanations in France, Greece, Sweden, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Belgium.

Israeli officials have expressed remorse for the incident, but also said the deadly force was provoked by violence on the activists’ part.

The US made no immediate response, but White House spokesman Bill Burton later said that the US “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” reported broadcaster CNN.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, a Mideast envoy and member of the Middle East Quartet, a group of nations involved in the peace process, said that: “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,” he continued.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa told a conference in Doha that the attacks indicated Israel was “not ready for peace.” It was “necessary to re—evalute how to deal with the Arab—Israeli conflict,” he continued, but added that “the negotiations are doomed to fail.”

“Shocked by killings”

In a joint statement, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, and the Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency, Filippo Grandi, said they were “shocked by reports of killings.

“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 statement continued.

Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri also asked Foreign Minister Ali Shami to request a special session of the UN Security Council in order to discuss the attack. Lebanon is currently president of the council. Hundreds of Lebanese, Palestinians and followers of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah demonstrated in front the UN headquarters in Beirut.

“This is a crime against humanity,” read one banner carried by the protestors, who chanted anti—Israeli slogans. They handed a letter of condemnation of the event to UN spokesman in Beirut, Bahaa al Kossi.

But the biggest demonstrations took place in Turkey. Thousands gathered in Istanbul’s main Taksim Square, waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Down with Israel!” and “Allah—u Akbar!” (God is great), while the organisers of the protest called for a worldwide boycott of Israeli products.

The demonstration was organised by the Turkish NGO Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), one of the groups in the coalition that coordinated the flotilla of aid boats.

Some of the protestors had marched to the square from an earlier protest that took place in front of the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, where demonstrators threw stones and burned Israeli flags.

Demonstrators also attempted to storm the consulate building, according to Turkish TV reports, but were prevented by police.

Turkey recalls ambassador

The Turkish government announced that it had recalled its ambassador to Israel and cancelled three military agreements with the country.

“This grave incident, which took place in high seas in gross violation of international law might cause irreversible consequences in our bilateral relations,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The flotilla of boats had set sail from Cyprus for Gaza on Sunday.

It had been warned before leaving that it would be denied entry to the Strip, which Israel has kept under blockade since 2006.

The flotilla’s organisers earlier rejected an Israeli offer to unload their aid at Ashdod port, about 30 kilometres north of the Strip.

Israel imposed the Gaza blockade in response to rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants at its southern communities, and also as a means of pressuring Hamas into freeing a soldier held captive in the strip as a bargaining chip since 2006.

Human rights organisations, have condemned it as collective punishment — illegal under international law — of the coastal enclave’s 1.5 million Palestinians.

According to the British Press Association, those on board the boats included Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize Winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire and a Holocaust survivor. Politicians from Germany, Turkey and Jordan, as well as doctors and nurses were also known to be on board.

The Free Gaza organization also said Henning Mankell, best— selliing Swedish author of the Wallender series, had been on board the Turkish Marmara when the Israeli military stormed it.

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