A flotilla of activists and politicians carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, in defiance of the U.S.-Israel-Egypt unlawful blockade, were attacked by the Israeli Navy. Israel Army Radio reports up to 16 have been killed. Others report up to 20.
The BBC reports (7:54):
In international waters, the Israeli Navy engaged in a prepared, deliberate attack on a convoy of ships carrying over 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Short-term detention camps (the irony) were setup in advance to hold the kidnapped activists captive.
The six ships, known as the “Freedom Flotilla” set sail from Turkey with hundreds of activists and politicians—including Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire and 85-year-old Nazi holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein—to defy the unlawful blockade on the Strip, enforced directly by the Israel and Egypt, with the support of the U.S. The flotilla is a non-aggressive civilian humanitarian operation to aid those imprisoned by the siege on Gaza.
Russia Today reports up to 20 have been killed, Al Jazeera reports 19—and that Israeli Army Radio reports up to 16—and Isabel Kershner reports at The New York Times “at least 10 people” were killed, “according to the Israeli military and activists traveling with the flotilla”. Israel’s Channel 10 is reporting 36 wounded.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was in Canada at the time and had a meeting at the White House scheduled for Tuesday, “planned to return home Monday to deal with fallout from the raid”, Ms. Kershner reports “an Israeli government official confirmed”.
He already has granted his “full backing” of the attack, according to the AFP (via Raw Story).
The Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F.) report that, blocking and forcefully invading the ships, they were “met with ‘live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs’,” she adds. “The naval forces then ’employed riot dispersal means, including live fire’, the military said in a statement.”
Ms. Kershner does report that the organization which launched the humanitarian mission rejects this statement:
Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus, rejected the military’s version.
“That is a lie,” she said, adding that 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.
The U.N. Security Council—currently chaired by Lebanon—has called an emergency meeting “to discuss Israel’s storming”, as reported by Ha’aretz, for Monday afternoon at 1:00 PM EST, diplomats told Reuters. U.N. “The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained, and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” said White House spokesman William Burton.
France was the first European nation-state to respond, when “Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was ‘profoundly shocked’,” Ha’aretz adds. The German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm expressed it was “shocked” and seemed in violation of proportionality standards for self-defense, adding the attack in international waters “does not speak in favor of this basic principle being adhered to”.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini joined in condemning the I.D.F., stating: “I deplore in the strongest terms the killing of civilians. This is certainly a grave act.”
Representative of the Turkish, Greek, Pakistani, Spanish and Indonesian governments—among others—have also expressed strong condemnations and have frozen military allegiances and scrapped war games planning with Israel, the AFP reports (via Raw Story). Al Jazeera reports on the international reaction, including those who’ve taken the streets in protest (4:34):
Mel Frykberg at Inter Press Services reports “water purification kits, prefabricated homes, wheelchairs as well as some reconstruction material” were among the contents of aid being delivered, adding the deliberate nature of this attack:
Thousands of homes were destroyed and damaged during Israel’s military assault on Gaza, codenamed Operation Cast Lead, at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009. As part of the siege Israel has forbidden nearly all reconstruction material from entering Gaza for rebuilding.
The F.G. [Free Gaza] Movement has attempted numerous times over the last few years to bring boats to Gaza with some success. Most times, however, the Israeli navy intercepted the vessels, ramming several boats and arresting those on board….
As a violent, and possibly bloody, confrontation between the flotilla and the Israeli security forces seemed increasingly inevitable, with Israeli officials vowing to stop the vessels and the F.G. vowing to reach Gaza, the Israeli foreign ministry and the I.D.F. launched a massive publicity campaign.
The Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post reported that the I.D.F. “has established a joint taskforce together with the Israel police, the foreign ministry and the Prisons Service to coordinate efforts to stop the flotilla and manage the potential media fallout.”…
Despite Israel arguing that only items considered a “security threat” are banned from entering Gaza, coriander, pasta, fruit juice, toilet paper, chocolate, cigarettes, seedlings, school books and uniforms remain on a long list of goods that for the most part are banned.
Furthermore, the United Nations has released recently a report contradicting the Israeli government, saying, “Livelihoods and lives of people living in the Gaza Strip have been devastated by over 1,000 days of near complete blockade.”
The U.N. also stated on Sunday that, “Most of the property and infrastructure damaged in Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip is still unrepaired 12 months later and aid efforts have been largely ineffective.”
The World Health Organisation released a facts sheet at the beginning of the year. “The lack of building materials is affecting essential health facilities: the new surgical wing in Gaza’s main Shifa hospital has remained unfinished since 2006. Hospitals and primary care facilities, damaged during operation ‘Cast Lead’, have not been rebuilt because construction materials are not allowed into Gaza.”
“Israeli forces committed war crimes and other serious breaches of international law in the Gaza Strip during a 22-day military offensive which ended on Jan. 18, 2009,” says Amnesty International (A.I.) in its latest annual report.
“Among other things, they carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians, targeted and killed medical staff, used Palestinian civilians as ‘human shields’, and indiscriminately fired white phosphorus over densely populated residential areas.
“Israeli forces continued to impose severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories throughout 2009, hampering access to essential services and land. The restrictions included a military blockade of the Gaza Strip, which effectively imprisoned the 1.5 million residents and resulted in a humanitarian crisis,” added the A.I. report.
The Obama Administration and U.S. Congress refuses to support U.N., N.G.O. condemnation and reports of war crimes findings for Israel’s massacre on Gaza. In fact, it has been rewarded with an extension of its annual aid package—as leading receiver of U.S. aid in the world—plus supplemental weapons and constructions packages to enable apartheid, war crimes and attacks on humanitarian missions like today’s.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) “is helping Israel to construct an apartheid road infrastructure in the occupied Palestinian West Bank by financing nearly a quarter of the segregated road system primarily for the benefit of Israeli settlers,” Mr Frykberg recently reported.
This was a de jure unilateral attack by the I.D.F., but no one in their right mind could accurately refute calling this a ‘U.S.-Israeli’ attack on a humanitarian convoy.
EDIT: The Arab League has called a meeting for Tuesday and Turkey promises to allow more ships to set sail for Gaza, but accompanied by the Turkish Navy, CNN-IBN reports.
Today’s attack by Israel is a terrorist attack by any serious definition of “international terrorism”. A future attack, with the Turkish Navy escort, would be an act of war in international waters. Israel could claim Turkish provocation by aiding to break the blockade, but this is nullified by the fact that the blockade itself is an illegal act of war.
Turkey is a NATO member-state is ‘good standing’. An aggressive act of war by the Israeli Navy would effectively be one against the U.S., 26 European nation-states and Canada.