Israeli forces kill over 19 activists in international waters
Over nineteen Free Gaza Movement activists died yesterday when Israeli Defense Force commandos boarded vessels in international waters attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Reports say over 19 people are dead and over 30 were injured, including a captain. There is a radio and satellite blackout from the ships, which are now under Israeli control. The media have not been given access to the crews, activists or journalists.
Over 700 humanitarian activists from the Free Gaza Movement were aboard the vessels, including former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, nobel laureate Mairéad Maguire, and several European members of parliament and MPs from Germany,Belgium, Algeria and Israel. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that the organizers of the Gaza aid flotilla have connections to organisations such as Hamas and al-Qaeda. The so-called Gaza Freedom Flotilla of six vessels carried 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid destined for the Gaza Strip, including hundreds of water purifiers, prefabricated homes and medical equipment.
The Israeli military had declared it would not allow the ships to reach Gaza and said the activists were a “provocation intended to delegitimise Israel”. The Israeli Navy had been transmitting messages throughout the night ordering them to turn back, stating: “If you ignore this order and enter the blockaded area, the Israeli navy will be forced to take all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade,” and that the Gaza region was a protected military zone. The activists had stated that they were “fully prepared for the different scenarios” and that they had fully intended to go into Gaza regardless of any threats of violence that the Israeli forces may use, claiming “They are going to have to forcefully stop us.”
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the activists attacked the commandos with batons, knives, axes and at least two guns. The pre-dawn boarding took place in international waters around 150 kilometres (90 miles) off the coast of Gaza. Footage from the flotilla’s lead vessel, the Mavi Marmara, showed armed Israeli soldiers boarding the ship from helicopters and fighting with activists as they boarding the vessel. A spokesman for the flotilla, Greta Berlin accused Israeli troops of indiscriminately shooting at “unarmed civilians”. Israel Defense Forces Radio said “the soldiers responded when live bullets were fired on them and one of the soldiers’ weapons was stolen” and “after confronting those on board carrying sharp objects”. Israel said troops found weapons aboard the Gaza flotilla which were used against the IDF. The foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief who helped to organise the convoy denied they had weapons on board.
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the Israeli trade and industry minister issued words of regret. “The images are certainly not pleasant. I can only voice regret at all the fatalities,”. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ called for three days of mourning to commemorate what he called the “slaughter” of protesters. Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, has dubbed the Israeli action as “a crime”. Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon said he was “shocked by reports of killings and injuries of people on boats carrying supplies for Gaza” and called for “a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place” and urged Israel to “urgently provide a full explanation”.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry condemned the raid on the ship and called it unacceptable and demanded an “urgent explanation” from Israel and warned of “irreparable consequences” after the incident. Some of the ships were sailing under Turkish flags and media reports indicate that Turkish nationals are among the dead. He summoned the Israeli ambassador to lodge a protest and said Israel violated international laws. Turkey is withdrawing its ambassador to Israel and is calling on the U.N. Security Council to convene in an emergency session about Israel.
The British Foreign Secretary William Hague has called on the Government of Israel to open all crossings for aid to enter Gaza and said Israel should “address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians .” The White House said that the United States “deeply regrets” the loss of life and injuries and was working to understand the circumstances surrounding this “tragedy.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has called on Israeli authorities to launch a “full inquiry” into the killing. She “reiterates the European Union’s position regarding Gaza – the continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive.” Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was “deeply concerned about the events last night in the waters off Gaza… these are disconcerting initial reports.” France said “nothing can justify” the incident. Sweden, Greece, Spain and Ireland have said it was important to “quickly establish” what happened, and have summoned the Israeli ambassadors to get more information.