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)