Up To Fifteen Dead In Israeli Confrontation With Gaza-Bound Flotilla
What some are describing as an “aid flotilla” made the mistake of trying to run the Israeli naval blockage of Gaza, and things did not end well:
JERUSALEM — The Israeli Navy raided a flotilla carrying thousands of tons of supplies for Gaza in international waters on Monday morning, killing at least 10 people, according to the Israeli military and activists traveling with the flotilla. Some Israeli media reports put the death toll higher.
The incident drew widespread international condemnation, with Israeli envoys summoned to explain their country’s actions in several European countries.
The criticism offered a propaganda coup to Israel’s foes, particularly the Hamas group that holds sway in Gaza, and damaged its ties to Turkey, one of its most important Muslim partners and the unofficial sponsor of the Gaza-bound convoy. Ankara recalled its ambassador to Israel and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cut short a visit to Latin America to return.
The killings also coincided with preparations for a planned visit to Washington on Tuesday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli Defense Forces said more than 10 people were killed when naval personnel boarding the six ships in the aid convoy met with “live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs.” The naval forces then “employed riot dispersal means, including live fire,” the military said in a statement.
“That is a lie,” said Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus. She said it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been “waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might.”
“We never thought there would be any violence,” she said.
At least four Israeli soldiers were injured in the operation, some from gunfire, according to the military.
A military statement said two activists were later found with pistols they had taken from Israeli commandos. The activists, the military said, had apparently opened fire “as evident by the empty pistol magazines.”
In The Jerusalem Post, the Israeli Defense Minister places the blame for the debacle on the flotilla organizers:
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a press conference on Monday that while he was sorry for lives lost, the organizers of the Gaza-bound protest flotilla were solely responsible for the outcome of the fatal IDF raid earlier in the day. Fifteen activists were killed and dozens wounded in the violent clashes.
Barak said that the soldiers tried to disperse the activists aboard the ship peacefully but were forced to open fire to protect themselves.
Speaking at a Jerusalem press conference on Monday morning. “It was a premeditated and outrageous provocation” and its organizers had ties to global Jihad, al Qaida and Hamas, said Ayalon.
“Their intent was violent, their methods were violent and their results were unfortunately violent,” Ayalon said.
“Israel regrets the loss of life and did everything it could to avoid this outcome,” Ayalon stressed, adding that Israel had offered to transport the humanitarian cargo on board the ship to Gaza.
“The organizers on the ship did not heed the calls of our forces this morning to peacefully follow them and bring a peaceful closure to this event,” said Ayalon, iterating that the successful arrival of the flotilla in Gaza would have created “a corridor of arms smuggling.”
As will all things involving Israel, though, it’s not entirely clear that the truth really matters to either side. Everyone will have their own reflexive reaction, and in much of the Middle East that means protests:
Reports of the activists’ deaths prompted demonstrations in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and Israel increased the presence of police and military across the country in anticipation of possible riots. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days mourning. A committee representing the Arab Israeli community declared a general strike for Tuesday.
Turkey, which dispatched the Mavi Marmara ship carrying the activists and aid, strongly condemned Israel, warning of deep consequences to relations and summoning Israel’s ambassador in Ankara. Demonstrators also protested outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul.
“We strongly condemn this inhumane act of Israel. This intervention which took place in open seas and which was a clear violation of international law may lead to irreparable damage to relations, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Turkish flags flew high above Gaza’s port on Monday alongside posters with photos of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The involvement of Turkey, which is, remember, a NATO ally, is interesting if only because of other signs we’ve seen lately of a change in the rhetoric coming out of Istanbul and what may be a drift away from the secularism that the nation has practiced since it’s founding. What that means for the future is unclear.
As for this incident, it is indeed tragic regardless of what the cause but, as with everything that happens in the Middle East, it’s likely to be blown out of proportion by both sides.