Photo by: Associated Press
Flotilla organizers: At least 10 activists killed in clashesBy YAAKOV KATZ AND JPOST.COM STAFF 05/31/2010 08:25
According to defense officials, upon boarding the ships the commandos were attacked by activists with rocks, knives and metal pipes.
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The soldiers responded with crowd dispersion measures.
At one point activists succeeded in stealing the weapon of one of the soldiers, leading to an escalation in violence.
According to unconfirmed Turkish reports, 10 activists were killed and dozens more were injured.
At least 6 Israeli soldiers were injured in the fighting, 2 of whom are in moderate condition.
The Navy made initial contact with the flotilla at 11 p.m. on Sunday ordering the ships to follow them to Ashdod Port or otherwise be boarded.
The actual boarding of the ships took place at 2 a.m. Monday and was yet to be completed by 8 a.m.
Activists aboard the ships repeatedly said they would not respond with violence to the navy's interception of their flotilla prior to the boarding.
Al-Jazeera reported Turkish leaders called an emergency meeting to discuss responses to the attack at sea. The Israeli ambassador in Turkey was called in to offer explanations, according to a report.
Hamas Prime Minister Haniyeh came on Al-Jazeera to condemn the “brutal attack” and called on the UN to intervene on the activists' behalf.
Apparently, IDF attempts to prevent broadcasting from the ships were unable to block the Turkish camera crew on board one of the ships.
Israel seizes vessel, protesters say
Naval ships move in on a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, reportedly killing three people, protest organizers and Arab media report.By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times
May 31, 2010
Reporting from Jerusalem —
Israeli naval ships on Monday seized at least one vessel in a protest flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, reportedly killing three people aboard and injuring several dozen, according to protest organizers and Arab media.
Israeli officials have not commented on the reports.
"The last we heard, Israeli soldiers landed on the top deck of the Turkish boat and opened fire," said Adam Shapiro, husband of one of the flotilla leaders. He said he spoke with his wife by telephone around 8:30 p.m. and she described watching the Israeli seizure from her boat.
"After that, we lost communication with all of the ships," Shapiro said. "She said her boat was being chased by Israeli ships and they were trying to outrun it."
According to one unconfirmed report, the other protest vessels had been intercepted and were being led to Israel.
Some of the injured reportedly have been evacuated to a hospital in Haifa.
Flotilla organizers, Arab leaders and Turkish diplomats have already condemned the reported attack. Flotilla organizers say they were carrying first-aid supplies and medical professionals in the event of casualties, but according to Shapiro, "we thought that the possibility that Israeli soldiers would shoot" was a remote one.
Flotilla organizers said they carried no weapons.
The six-vessel flotilla, packed with hundreds of international activists, food and other humanitarian supplies, left Cyprus on Sunday night and was attempting to break Israel's long-standing blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israel had vowed to intercept the boats, by force if necessary, and tow them to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where passengers would be arrested or deported. Israel says the blockade of Gaza, which is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, is needed to combat terrorism.
A live video feed from the Turkish boat showed images of Israeli soldiers boarding the vessel and firing some sort of weapons, though it was unclear whether the weapons were live rounds or less-lethal devices, such as stun grenades. The feed was abruptly cut.
Turkey summons Israeli envoy after aid flotilla stormed
Israeli attack Gaza flotilla kills 16, injures 50
The six-ship convoy carrying aid for Palestinians and led by a Turkish vessel with 700 people on board set sail for Gaza from international waters off Cyprus on Sunday in defiance of an Israeli-led blockade of the territory.
It was not clear whether the clashes were taking place on just one of the six boats making up the aid convoy, and the Israeli army had no immediate comment on the incident.
The Israeli ambassador, meanwhile, was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry, a Turkish diplomat said.
"The ambassador (Gabby Levy) was summoned to the foreign ministry. We will convey our reaction in the strongest terms," the diplomat, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc meanwhile conveyed an emergency meeting with senior officials, including the minister of the interior, the navy chief and the army's head of operations, Anatolia news agency reported.
Arinc was in charge as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is currently on a visit to Chile.
Police stepped up security outside the residence of the Israeli ambassador, where several dozen protestors gathered to protest the Israeli operation against the aid flotilla, television footage showed.
A group of protestors gathered also outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, waving Palestinian flags, Anatolia said.
The convoy, led by a Turkish vessel with 700 people on board, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and an elderly Holocaust survivor, set off in international waters off Cyprus on Sunday in defiance of an Israeli-led blockade of the Gaza Strip and warnings that it would be intercepted.
The flotilla was organized by pro-Palestinian groups and a Turkish human rights organization. Turkey had urged Israel to allow it safe passage and said the 10,000 tons of aid the convoy was carrying was humanitarian.
Israel had said it would prevent the convoy from reaching the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Islamist Hamas group.
The head of the Gaza Hamas government, Ismail Haniyeh, condemned the "brutal" Israeli attack.
"We call on the Secretary-General of the U.N., Ban Ki-moon, to shoulder his responsibilities to protect the safety of the solidarity groups who were on board these ships and to secure their way to Gaza," Haniyeh told The Associated Press.
The flotilla was "fully prepared for the different scenarios" that might arise, and organizers were hopeful that Israeli authorities would "do what's right" and not stop the convoy, she said.
"We fully intend to go to Gaza regardless of any intimidation or threats of violence against us," she said. "They are going to have to forcefully stop us."
After nightfall Sunday, three Israeli navy missile boats left their base in Haifa, steaming out to sea to confront the activists' ships.
Two hours later, Israel Radio broadcast a recording of one of the missile boats warning the flotilla not to approach Gaza.
"If you ignore this order and enter the blockaded area, the Israeli navy will be forced to take all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade," the radio message continued.
The flotilla, which includes three cargo ships and three passenger ships, is trying to draw attention to Israel's three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. The boats are carrying items that Israel bars from reaching Gaza, like cement and other building materials. The activists said they also were carrying hundreds of electric-powered wheelchairs, prefabricated homes and water purifiers.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that after a security check, permitted humanitarian aid confiscated from the boats will be transferred to Gaza through authorized channels. However, Israel would not transfer items it has banned from Gaza under its blockade rules. Palmor said that for example, cement would be allowed only if it is tied to a specific project.
This is the ninth time that the Free Gaza movement has tried to ship in humanitarian aid to Gaza since August 2008.
Israel has let ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a three-week military offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers in January 2009. The flotilla bound for Gaza is the largest to date.
Israel says the measures are needed to prevent Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets at Israel, from building up its arsenal. But U.N. officials and international aid groups say the blockade has been counterproductive, failing to weaken the Islamic militant group while devastating the local economy.
In particular, the ban on building materials has prevented Gazans from repairing thousands of homes that were damaged or destroyed in an Israeli military offensive, meant to stop Hamas rocket attacks, early last year.
Israel rejects claims of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying it allows more than enough food and medicine into the territory. The Israelis also point to the bustling smuggling industry along Gaza's southern border with Egypt, which has managed to bring consumer goods, gasoline and livestock into the seaside strip.
Israel has condemned the flotilla as a provocation and vowed to block it from reaching Gaza.
At Gaza's tiny port, meant for small fishing boats, Hamas officials, activists and foreign nationals prepared to welcome the flotilla, sitting in some 40 small boats that were bobbing in the sea and decorated with the flags of the countries of the pro-Palestinian activists, including Turkey and Algeria.
In other boats, Gaza boy scouts played music, while on shore, other activists released balloons with the faces of Palestinian civilians and militants killed in battles with Israeli forces.
In Syria, eight Damascus-based Palestinian groups urged Arab and Muslim states to work to support the flotilla and warned Israel against committing any "foolishness to impede the vessels"
"This could create more tension and trigger unpredictable reactions," said the groups, which included Hamas and the militant Islamic Jihad.