Several nations call for lifting the Gaza blockade

The storming by Israel on Monday of the aid flotilla that was heading for Gaza with relief material is escalating international pressure on Israel to lift the siege that it has imposed on the coastal strip.

The foreign policy chief of the European Union, Catharine Ashton, in the aftermath of the day-break Israeli raid, called for “an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of the crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza,” a spokesman said.

Similar views were echoed by Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Assad called upon the United States to pressure Israel to lift the Gaza blockade that has been tightly imposed since 2009 at the end of the Israel-Hamas winter conflict.

In a statement, Iran's Foreign Ministry described the Israeli attack an expression of “maritime terrorism”. “This is the time for the international community to adopt a resolute stance against the recurring crimes of this belligerent and occupationist regime,” the statement added. Israel's attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla is a “terrorist act that deserves international punishment,” Lebanon's Hizbollah movement announced on Monday.

Piqued by the pre-dawn bloodbath which killed at least 20 persons, thousands are protesting in West Asia. Hundreds of Palestinians flooded the streets of the northern city of Nazareth to air their protest. The Israeli assault on the flotilla has injured Islamic Palestinian leader Sheikh Raed Salah who has reportedly sustained serious injuries. Some of the largest protests on Monday were observed in Istanbul and Ankara, where thousands rallied against the attack. In Baghdad, Iraq's Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr issued a call for a central Baghdad protest march.

AFP reports from Ankara:

Tens of thousands of furious Turks poured into the streets with protestors in Istanbul burning Israeli flags, shouting “Damn Israel!” and demanding “A tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye, revenge, revenge!” The Vatican voiced “deep sadness and concern” and West Asia peace envoy Tony Blair expressed his “deep regret and shock,” as capitals across Europe summoned Israel's ambassadors to explain the assault.

Greece, which had dozens of nationals in the convoy, also pulled out of joint military exercises with Israel as an aid group claimed that commandos in helicopters had fired on a Greek vessel.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked” by the navy assault and called on Israel to “urgently” explain itself over the raid. Washington said it “deeply regrets the loss of life” and was “working to understand” what caused the “tragedy”. Spain, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Greece and Cyprus summoned Israel's respective ambassadors.

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