Up to 16 people have been killed as Israeli naval commandos boarded aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip on May 30. The six-ship aid convoy led by a Turkish vessel with 600 people on board set sail for Gaza from waters off Cyprus the previous day in defiance of Israel’s blockade of the territory. Footage from the flotilla’s lead vessel, the Mavi Marmara, shows armed Israeli troops boarding the ship and helicopters flying overhead. The BBC reports that the incident took place in international waters.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, on board the Mavi Marmara, said Israeli troops had used live ammunition during the operation. Israeli Army Radio said soldiers opened fire “after confronting those on board carrying sharp objects.” However, the Free Gaza Movement, organizers of the flotilla, said the troops opened fire as soon as they boarded the ships. They also said the ships were now being towed to the Israeli town of Haifa.
An Israeli religious medical service, ZAKA, said seven people have been admitted to hospital in Haifa, Israel’s main naval base, one of them in a serious condition. Vice premier Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio that Israeli forces will soon issue a report. Israeli officials said overnight the navy told the activists by radio to turn back toward Cyprus or head for the Israeli port of Ashdod to unload the 10,000 tons of aid, which Israel would then transfer to the Gaza Strip.
The hundreds of activists on board the flotilla include a Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire from Northern Ireland, several European legislators, and a large delegation of Turkish activists. Turkey had urged Israel to allow the convoy safe passage. Israel said it would prevent the convoy from reaching Gaza.
Thousands of Turkish protesters tried to storm the Israeli consulate in Istanbul as the news of the incident broke. The protesters shouted “Damn Israel” as police blocked them. Turkey is also reported to have summoned the Israeli ambassador to lodge a protest. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, AlJazeera, UKPA, BBC World Service, May 30)
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What happened in flotilla incident?
The latest media accounts are claiming nine dead, and five soldiers hurt—and raising Israeli assertions that the activists were armed and fired at the troops. “Our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives or they would have been killed,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Netanyahu has canceled his scheduled meeting at the White House with President Obama to deal with the crisis.
Each side has released its own video of the incident, each portraying the other as the aggressor. While the Israeli-released video shows metal pipes that the activists supposedly used as weapons, it does not show any firearms.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Danny Ayalon called the incident an “outrageous provocation” and claimed passengers aboard the ships had links to al-Qaeda.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a “full investigation” into the bloodshed. “I condemn this violence,” he said. (NY Daily News, May 31)
Did Israel try to sink flotilla vessel?
An Israeli warship threatened to sink Captain Huseyin Tokalak’s ship before commandos boarded the Turkish-flagged Gazze and trained their guns on him and his crew.
“They pointed two guns to the head of each of us,” Tokalak told a press conference in Istanbul after being released from Israeli custody. They were 68 miles outside Israeli territorial waters when the convoy was confronted by the Israeli ships, Tokalak said. Using a loudspeaker, Tokalak told the approaching craft that his ship was in international waters and carried nothing illegal. He said the Israelis responded by threatening to open fire and sink them.
There were no casualties on Tokalak’s vessel, but nine activists were killed when the Israeli commandos apparently met resistance as they boarded the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in a six-strong convoy organised by a Turkish Islamic charity, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH). (IOL, June 1)
Propaganda wars in flotilla attack
Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, charges in a June 2 New York Times op-ed:
But a blogger on Straight.com notes:
Meanwhile, hundreds of detained flotilla activists have returned from Israel to Turkey, where they have received a hero’s welcome. (NPR, June 3)
Israeli commandos killed journalist covering their crime: report
From Middle East Monitor, June 4:
Israeli MK on aid ship refutes government claims
From Middle East Online, June 4:
IDF: “mercenaries” provoked flotilla violence
From the Jerusalem Post, June 4:
Flotilla attack propaganda wars redux
From IPS, June 7, emphasis added:
From the Committee to Protect Journalists, June 3:
There’s plenty more if you want to read it…
Israel launches internal military probe of flotilla attack
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on June 7 launched an internal investigation of the May 31 Israeli raid on several Turkish ships bound for the blockaded Gaza Strip. Chief of the General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi named Major General Giora Island to head an internal team of experts to investigate the flotilla operation. The team is made up of professionals outside of the chain of command of this specific operation. The investigatory unit will study the outcomes of the incident, “establish lessons,” and present its findings by July 4. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the nation’s seven senior ministers also decided on Monday to establish a panel of jurists to investigate the attack. The panel’s inquiry will be independent from the IDF investigation. To restore normal diplomatic ties with Israel, the Turkish government has requested the establishment of an international inquiry, a public apology, and an end to the Gaza blockade.
Earlier this week, the Israeli ambassador to the US rejected the idea of an international inquiry into the flotilla attack. The proposal, put forth by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, would have established a panel composed of representatives from Israel, Turkey, and other unnamed countries. Netanyahu was reported to have expressed reservations regarding an international inquiry due to the precedent it would set. Last week, the UN Human Rights Council condemned Israel’s raid on the ships and initiated an independent investigation into possible violations of international law. Additionally, the UN Security Council called for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation” into the raid. The Turkish ship on which the violence occurred was one of six organized by the Free Gaza Movement to carry protesters and humanitarian supplies to the besieged Palestinian enclave. (Jurist, June 8)