Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the Israeli commandos who raided a ship that was trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
“Our soldiers had to defend their lives or they would have been killed,” Mr. Netanyahu told reporters in Canada before he broke off his visit there to rush home to Israel.
At least nine, and possibly as many as 19, civilians were killed early Monday morning when Israeli naval commandos stormed a six-ship flotilla bound for Gaza. The attack occurred after the ships rejected a demand to either turn back, or make for the Israeli port of Ashdod, where their aid cargo would be unloaded and inspected before being transferred to the salient by land.
Mr. Netanyahu said that only one of the six ships, one carrying hundreds of people, resisted cooperation with Israeli military demands that they dock in Ashdod. The five other ships had cooperated.
He said all cargo going into Gaza must be screened by Israel because Gaza has become a base for Hamas terrorists “backed by Iran, and from which they fire thousands of rockets into Israel.”
“We try to let all humanitarian goods, peaceful commodities, food, and medicine, into Gaza,” the Israeli leader said. Mr. Netanyahu said that when the Israeli soldiers boarded the ship, they were “mobbed, clubbed, beaten and stabbed” and that there were also reports of gunfire.
“We regret this loss of life,” the prime minister said. The Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, told CNN that the Israeli soldiers were armed with paint ball guns and side arms for self defence.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government, told the BBC that it was “100 per cent” certain there was live fire aimed at Israeli soldiers.
Mr. Netanyahu cancelled his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama for Tuesday. The two men spoke on the phone, during which Mr. Obama urged a full and quick investigation of the incident.
The attack has been widely condemned - from the European Union, across Latin America and the Middle East. A wide range of leaders have called for Israel to end its blockade of Gaza.