Gaza flotilla deaths: the world reacts
Outrage spread around the world this morning as news broke that Israeli forces had attacked a convoy bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, killing at least ten people in international waters. Israel says its forces faced resistance from activists armed with knives and metal bars – but the international outcry has continued. Here is the reaction to the violence:
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked” by the deadly raid. “I condemn this violence,” he told a press conference in Kampala, Uganda, where he is attending a conference on the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place,” Mr Ban said. “I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.” He spoke moments after a speech hailing the “new age of accountability” heralded by the creation of the ICC in 2002, of which Israel is not a member.
The United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay also expressed shock. “In the Gaza Strip the blockade keeps undermining human rights on a daily basis … the current situation falls far short of what is necessary for the population to lead normal and dignified lives,” she added.
Turkey is reported to have lost at least nine citizens in the raid after a Turkish ship was the site of the greatest violence between Israeli forces and pro-Palestinian activists. Turkey awoke in shock this morning and tens of thousands gathered to protest in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul.
Converging at the Israeli Consulate, protesters marched on the city’s central square chanting slogans such as “Damn Israel!” and “A tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye, revenge, revenge!” More demonstrations took place outside the residence of Israeli Ambassador Gabby Levy in Ankara, the Turkish capital.
Until now one of Israel’s few Muslim allies, Turkey immediately withdrew its Ambassador to Israel and cancelled three planned joint military exercises.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry warned Israel that bilateral ties could suffer “irreparable consequences”, describing the operation as “unacceptable”. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would cut short a tour to Latin America to return home today.
A Greek vessel, the Sfendoni, reportedly came under fire along with the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, which bore the brunt of the violence. Greece cancelled a visit by the Israeli Air Force chief that had been scheduled for tomorrow, cut short a joint Greek-Israeli Air Force exercise, and summoned the Israeli ambassador for an explanation.
ARAB & MUSLIM GROUPS
The head of the Arab League said Arab states must reconsider their dealings with Israel in light of the violence.
“Israel’s attack indicates Israel is not ready for peace. Israel attacked the liberty fleet because it feels it is above the law,” Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said in Doha. “There is no benefit in dealing with Israel in this manner and we must re-assess our dealing with Israel,” he said.
On behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Pakistani diplomat Marghoob Saleem Butt said: “We strongly condemn today’s Israeli attacks on the boat convoy carrying humanitarian aid and supplies to the people of occupied Gaza … This is yet another example of Israeli disregard of all international norms and laws,” he told the Human Rights Council.
“We demand that Israeli authorities immediately release all the boats and arrested people and take action against those responsible for these attacks and killing,” he added.
Ambassadors from the 27 European Union countries are to hold emergency talks in Brussels today after contacting their Israeli counterparts.
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Baroness Ashton of Upholland said she had called Israel’s top diplomat to express concern.
“During the course of this morning I have spoken to Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman, the Foreign Minister of Israel. I expressed my deepest concern about the tragedy that has happened. I said that we needed an inquiry by Israel into the circumstances,” she told reporters.
“I have also taken the opportunity to point out, having visited Gaza, the importance of opening the crossings for humanitarian aid to go through to ensure that ordinary people have a better existence than that which I saw.”
Some 28 Britons were on board the flotilla, according to the Palestinian rights group Friends of Al-Aqsa. It is unclear whether any have been injured.
The Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “I deplore the loss of life during the interception of the Gaza flotilla. Our embassy is in urgent contact with the Israeli Government. We are asking for more information and urgent access to any UK nationals involved.
“We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way, because of the risks involved. But at the same time, there is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations. It will be important to establish the facts about this incident, and especially whether enough was done to prevent deaths and injuries.”
He also called on Israel to lift restrictions on access to Gaza and address concerns over the humanitarian and economic situation in the strip.
The US “deeply regrets” the deaths, the White House said.
“The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” said the White House spokesman Bill Burton.
President Barack Obama and the Israeli President Binyamin Netanyahu are scheduled to meet tomorrow over the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
An Algerian Islamist party, the Movement for Peaceful Society, said it had no news of 32 Algerians travelling on board the ships.
“We are without news of the Algerian delegation of 32 members comprising members of parliament, journalists and doctors,” a spokesman told AFP. “Unconfirmed reports speak of two casualties among the Algerians.”
The Algerian Government was this morning holding crisis meetings to decide how to respond to the attack.
Two Australian journalists travelling with the convoy, writer Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty – both of The Sydney Morning Herald – are safe and being processed in an Israeli detention centre, the paper said. The Australian Government has not yet responded formally to the incident.
Belgium summoned the Israeli ambassador to explain the raid, and demanded news of five Belgian nationals on board the convoy, who include four women and a cameraman for Al-Jazeera.
France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Israel of a “disproportionate use of force” and sent his condolences to the families of the victims.
The Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was “deeply shocked”. “Nothing can justify the use of such violence,” he added. “We do not understand the still provisional human toll of such an operation against a humanitarian initiative that had been known about for several days.
“The incident happened in an intolerable way in international waters.”
France summoned the Israeli ambassador to explain, while an association of Jewish groups in France, CRIF, said it “deeply deplored” the killings.
Despite being one of Israel’s most loyal allies, Germany expressed shock at the events.
“Every German Government supports unconditionally Israel’s right to self defence,” said the government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm. But he added that Israeli actions should correspond to what he described as the “basic principle” of proportionality. “A first look does not speak in favour of this basic principle being adhered to.”
Iran, one of Israel’s staunchest enemies, said the killings were “inhuman” and would help bring about an end to the state of Israel.
“All these acts indicate the end of the heinous and fake regime and will bring it closer to the end of its existence,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the state broadcaster IRIB. The country called on the world to cut ties with Israel.
“The minimum step that the international community should take regarding this horrible crime by the Zionist regime is to fully boycott it and to fully cut diplomatic, economic and political ties with the Zionist regime,” said the Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi.
Italy “deplored” the violence on board the flotilla. Its Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said: “I absolutely deplore... the killing of civilians … an investigation must discover the truth about what happened. We demand a serious and detailed investigation, and I think the EU must be involved so that it is directly informed of the findings.”
Thousands of Palestinian refugees and activists held demonstrations across Lebanon to denounce the raid. Waving Palestinian flags and banners, the demonstrators marched in the 12 refugee camps scattered throughout the country and held a protest in central Beirut demanding that Israel be held to account for its actions.
The Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, currently chaired by Lebanon.
He said the raid was “a dangerous and crazy step that will exacerbate tensions in the region. Lebanon firmly denounces this attack and calls on the international community, notably major powers... to take action.”
The Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen expressed “shock” and demanded an inquiry. The ministry said it was unsure whether any Dutch citizens were on board the ships.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli “aggression,” declared three days of mourning across the West Bank and called on the U.N. Security Council and Arab League to hold emergency sessions on the incident.
The leader of the the rival Hamas Government in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh condemned the “brutal” attack and called for United Nations intervention. Hamas urged Muslims around the world to “rise up” in protest.
The current holder of the rotating EU presidency, Spain said it “condemns the military action... which has claimed a high number of victims” and considers the raid “totally disproportionate”. It summoned Israel’s ambassador to explain.
Spanish media has been reporting that three Spanish citizens were on board the convoy.
With at least ten Swedes on board the flotilla, Sweden summoned the Israeli ambassador to explain the events. The Swedes include the author Henning Mankell, an MP and the controversial Swedish-Israeli artist Dror Feiler, the chairman of the Swedish group Jews for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
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