Israeli action draws condemnation

 

The storming of Gaza-bound aid ships by Israeli commandos and the deaths of at least 10 activists has sparked international condemnation today.

The reaction to a Turkish-backed attempt to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip by six ships carrying some 600 people and relief supplies raised a storm of protest across the Middle East and far beyond.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon called for a full investigation and expressed shock at Israel's storming of a convoy of Gaza-bound aid ships and the killing of more than 10 people.

"It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place. I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation," he said at a press conference in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.

He is in Kampala to attend a review conference of the International Criminal Court.

The UN Security Council will meet this afternoon for an emergency session to discuss Israel's storming of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, council diplomats confirmed. They said no time had yet been set for the meeting and gave no further details.

At White House, where Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to meet President Barack Obama tomorrow, a spokesman said Washington was trying to understand what happened. Officials with Mr Netanyahu in Canada said he had no plans to fly home early or cancel Tuesday's meeting with the US president.

Those talks had been expected to focus on US efforts to move along tentative negotiations with the Palestinians.

Turkey, Israel's Muslim ally, said today it had called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. The Turkish government, long Israel's lone friend in the Muslim Middle East, "strongly protested" the action in a new low in an already crumbling Israeli relationship with Ankara. "Israel will have to suffer the consequences of this behaviour," a Turkish foreign ministry statement said.

The United Nations condemned the violence and demanded an explanation from Israel, European Union demanded an inquiry and France said it was "profoundly shocked".

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of committing a “massacre”. He declared three days of official mourning for the dead. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel's interception of the ships was "inhuman".

The United Nations' coordinator for Middle East peace, Robert Serry, and the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Filippo Grandi, expressed shock at the killings aboard boats carrying humanitarian supplies in international waters.

"Such tragedies are entirely avoidable if Israel heeds the repeated calls of the international community to end its counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza," they said in a joint statement.

Greece, some of whose citizens were on the convoy, halted a joint naval exercise with Israel and summoned the Israeli ambassador in Athens.

Amnesty International has called for an "immediate, credible and independent" investigation into the killings.

Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, blamed the activists for the violence and branded them allies of Hamas and al-Qaeda.

The convoy, carrying 10,000 tonnes of supplies, set off from international waters near Cyprus yesterday in defiance of warnings that it would be intercepted.

The United Nations and Western powers have urged Israel to ease its restrictions to prevent a humanitarian crisis and allow for postwar reconstruction. Israel says food, medicine and medical equipment are allowed in regularly.