Monday, May 31, 2010
Israel attacked a flotilla of six ships that tried to break its blockade of Gaza. The Israelis killed 9 activists on those ships, 8 of them from Turkey. The ships were carrying 700 people and 10,000 tons of supplies, including electric-powered wheelchairs, prefabricated homes, and water purifiers.
The attack has set off a diplomatic storm. Click here for a video report from Reuters.
After the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled plans for a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today expressed his shock at the deadly raid on boats loaded with relief supplies headed for Gaza, calling on Israel to fully explain its actions. According to media reports, early this morning in international waters, Israeli forces raided the six-ship aid convoy, also carrying hundreds of activists, with more than ten people having been killed. “I condemn this violence,” Mr. Ban said from Kampala, Uganda, where he presided over the first review conference of the International Criminal Court. “It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place,” he said. “I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.”
The Security Council is scheduled to meet this afternoon in an emergency session to discuss the incident.
The League of Arab States may also hold an emergency meeting tomorrow. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa is reported to have said that "Israel's attack indicates that Israel is not ready for peace. Israel attacked the liberty fleet because it feels it is above the law."Egypt summoned the Israeli ambassador. The Israeli Academic Center in Cairo, which aids to build ties in Egypt, has canceled all lectures for the coming week.
The Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri called Israel's attack a "crazy step" that risked inflaming conflict in the region.
Turkey, an Israeli ally in the region, has called off three joint military exercises with Israel. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has cut short an official visit to Latin America. Turkey summoned Israel's ambassador and said it may recall its own ambassador. Israeli nationals have been advised to avoid travel to Turkey and to keep a low profile if they are already in the country. Demonstrators are reportedly assembling in front of the the residence of Israel's ambassador to Turkey.
The United Nations has repeatedly spoken out against the closure of Gaza and raised concern over the insufficient flow of material into the area to meet basic needs and spur reconstruction. Mr. Ban cautioned in a recent meeting that the closure “creates unacceptable suffering, hurts forces of moderation and empowers extremists.”
Also speaking out against today's raid was UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who emphasized that “nothing can justify the appalling outcome of this operation.” She called for a probe into the incident and underscored the need for accountability. “I unequivocally condemn what appears to be disproportionate use of force, resulting in the killing and wounding of so many people attempting to bring much-needed aid to the people of Gaza, who have now been enduring a blockade for more than three years,” Ms. Pillay said. She called on the Israeli Government to heed the “almost unanimous international view that the continued blockade of Gaza is both inhumane and illegal.” The blockade, the High Commissioner pointed out, “lies at the heart of so many of the problems plaguing the Israel-Palestine situation, as does the impression that the Israeli Government treats international law with perpetual disdain.” Without the blockade, she noted, “there would be no need for flotillas like this.”
Richard Falk, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, said that “Israel is guilty of shocking behavior by using deadly weapons against unarmed civilians on ships that were situated in the high seas where freedom of navigation exists, according to the law of the seas.” He echoed the calls by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for an investigation into today's incident, stressing that it is “essential that those Israelis responsible for this lawless and murderous behavior, including political leaders who issued the orders, be held criminally accountable for their wrongful acts.” Mr. Falk characterized the blockade of Gaza as a “massive form of collective punishment” that is tantamount to a crime against humanity. “Unless prompt and decisive action is taken to challenge the Israeli approach to Gaza all of us will be complicit in criminal policies that are challenging the survival of an entire beleaguered community,” he said.
The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was reported to have said that the violence could not be justified and that he was "profoundly shocked by the tragic consequences of the Israeli military operation against the Peace Flotilla for Gaza."
Israel denies that it has created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and says that it allows sufficient food and medicine into the territory. Click here for more statements from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.