Reuters – Palestinians ride aboard boats in a preparation for the arrival of a convoy of ships to Gaza’s Seaport, …
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By Dan Williams Dan Williams – 25 mins ago
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – About 15 people were killed on Monday when the Israeli navy intercepted ships carrying aid and pro-Palestinian activists toward the Gaza Strip, Israel’s private Channel 10 television said.
As a diplomatic furor took shape, especially with long-time Muslim ally Turkey whose flag some of the ships were flying, an Israeli minister said: “The images are certainly not pleasant. I can only voice regret at all the fatalities.”
Israeli Trade Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer gave no details of what Channel 10 said were 14 to 16 deaths. But he told Israel’s Army Radio: “I can also understand … how soldiers are coming down and are set upon with batons and tools.
“The moment someone tries to snatch your weapon, to steal your weapons, that’s where you begin to lose control.”
The bloodshed thwarted Israel’s hopes of avoiding casualties — which could hurt its diplomatic relations, especially with Turkey, where media reported ministers were meeting. Israel’s Western allies have also been critical of its Gaza embargo.
Turkey said it “strongly protested” against the military action, calling the interception of the ships unacceptable and cautioning in a statement issued by its Foreign Ministry that “Israel will have to endure the consequences of this behavior.”
Israel has said it was absolutely determined to maintain its blockade of the Islamist-controlled Palestinian territory of 1.5 million, citing fears that arms supplies could reach Hamas by sea. It has previously halted such activist ships, although some others have reached Gaza before.
Greta Berlin, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza Movement which organized the convoy said she was told of 10 dead by an Israeli lawyer for the group but had had no contact with the ships.
“How could the Israeli military attack civilians like this?” she said. “Do they think that because they can attack Palestinians indiscriminately they can attack anyone?
“We have two other boats. This is not going to stop us.”
Israeli media said some marine commandoes were slightly hurt. Captured ships were sailing toward Israel’s southern Mediterranean port of Ashdod, media said.
The convoy 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, among others, by a Turkish human rights organization. Turkey had urged Israel to allow it safe passage and said the 10,000 tonnes of aid the convoy was carrying was humanitarian.
Turkey, long Israel’s best Muslim friend and a key ally in a hostile Middle East, was highly critical of Israel’s attack on Gaza 18 months ago, in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed.
Relations between the two states are now distinctly chilly and bloodshed at sea will do nothing to improve them.
France24 television aired video of a woman in a Muslim headress holding a stretcher with a large bloodstain on it. Below her lay a man, apparently injured, in a blanket.
CNN showed pictures of a commando apparently rappeling down a rope and clashing with a man wielding a stick. Other TV images showed what appeared to be rubber boarding launches.
The United Nations and Western powers have urged Israel to ease its restrictions on Gaza to prevent a humanitarian crisis. They have been urging Israel to let in concrete and steel to allow for postwar reconstruction.
Israel denies there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying food, medicine and medical equipment are allowed in regularly. It says the restrictions are necessary to prevent weapons and materials that could be used to make them from reaching Hamas.
(Writing by Alastair Macdonald, Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Nicosia and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara bureau)