Israel blames Gaza flotilla deaths on activists
Israel blamed the violence on the mostly Turkish and European activists aboard the Gaza flotilla, saying its naval troops were attacked with knives, clubs, and gunfire when they boarded some of the ships.
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Israeli forces intercepted an international aid flotilla headed for Gaza early Monday, roping onto the boats by helicopter and killing more than 10 people and injuring dozens.
The Gaza flotilla, led by a group of mostly European and Turkish activists, had been heading for a showdown with Israel, which had made clear it would not allow the six ships to break its blockade of Gaza to bring humanitarian and building supplies to the coastal enclave.
But the violent and bloody confrontation was unexpected, and will likely have serious consequences on Israel’s already-strained relations with Turkey. It has already provoked international condemnation, and comes just before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to visit the White House on Tuesday. Some Israeli media reported he would now delay that visit.
A Turkish charity involved with the flotilla said as many as 15 people were killed, mostly Turkish citizens, according to Agence France-Presse. Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that five of the dead were Israeli Arabs from Haifa. The Israeli military said four commandos had been wounded. Israeli commandos boarded the ships by helicopter in international waters after ordering the flotilla to stop about 80 miles from the coast of Gaza.
Israel put the blame for the violence on the activists, saying its naval troops were attacked with knives, clubs, and gunfire when they boarded some of the ships, and were forced to defend themselves, reports AFP.
"They initiated the violence," [Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,] told AFP. "We made every possible effort to avoid this incident. The servicemen were given instructions that it was to be a police operation and to use maximum restraint."
The Los Angeles Times reports that an Israeli military spokesman said activists grabbed a soldier’s weapon and began using it to fire on the boarding naval forces. But the activists tell a different story, according to the Times.
A flotilla spokeswoman, Greta Berlin, told Israel Radio that the confrontation was broadcast live from a Turkish boat participating in the flotilla. The footage, she said, clearly showed Israeli soldiers landing on the deck and opening fire on civilians.
"The minute their feet hit the deck, they started to shoot," Berlin said.