The Israeli navy attacked half a dozen ships carrying activists and aid to the Gaza Strip on Monday. Some ten to fourteen people were killed in the confrontation that ensued. Many more were injured.
The small flotilla, led by a Turkish ship with some 600 people on board, was carrying pro-Palestinian activists and humanitarian aid to the coast of Gaza. Israeli vessels and air forces intercepted the self-proclaimed “Freedom Flotilla” in international waters. Israel and Egypt both maintain a blockade of the Gaza Strip in order to prevent weapons from getting in and terrorists from getting out. The ships were warned not to continue but to no avail; force was ultimately required to stop their approach.
The Israeli Defense Forces have reported that six soldiers were injured during the takeover when they were stabbed with knives. Onboard activist also attempted to get their hands on one of the weapons carried by the Israeli soldiers.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has blamed the organizers of the flotilla for the onslaught. In a press conference delivered mere hours after the incident, Barak said that Israel was prepared to accept the consequences of its actions and would continue to protect its autonomy. He voiced regret for the deaths but called the flotilla a political provocation and alleged that its sponsors were violent supporters of a terrorist organization.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon also declared on Monday that the organizers of the aid flotilla were connected with organizations as Hamas and Al Qaeda. Hamas, for its part, was quick to respond. One Ismail Raduan, speaking for the organization, described the naval intervention as “state-sponsored organized terror.” He called on the international community to “do something” and on all Muslim people to “launch protests of rage of solidarity.”
Protests did break out in different parts of Israel and the West Bank. Jewish students clashed with Muslim counterparts. Palestinian youths protesting the raid scuffled with Israeli soldiers, throwing bottles and stones at them, at a checkpoint north of Jerusalem.
The international response was one of widespread condemnation. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “shocked” and called for a “thorough investigation.” The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, expressed similar concern and supported the motion for an inquiry. French president Nicolas Sarkozy complained of “the disproportionate use of force” against the flotilla while Denmark, Egypt, Greece and Spain all summoned Israel’s ambassadors, demanding explanations for the violence.
The strongest reactions came from Turkey which unfortunately puts relations between the two countries under further strain. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç called Israel’s actions “piracy” and announced the withdrawal its ambassador from Israel. Around 10,000 Turks marched in protest from the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, chanting, “Murderous Israel you will drown in the blood you shed!”
The White House issued a cautious reaction, stating: “The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained, and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy.”
The incident is likely to stir further consternation during the days ahead as Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Washington DC on Tuesday.
Anti-Israeli sentiments were reignited throughout the region. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran called the action “an inhuman act.” Jordan’s information minister described it as a “heinous crime” and Egypt called for the “immediate lifting of the Israeli siege on Gaza” — though Egypt also sustains a blockade of the strip and has shown little willingness to end it.