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Israeli flotilla raid provokes condemnation

June 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Israeli raid of an aid flotilla has provoked ferocious international condemnation of Israel, raised questions at home, and appeared likely to increase pressure to end the blockade that has deepened the poverty of the 1.5 million Palestinians in the strip.

Turkey, which unofficially supported the flotilla, has led the criticism, calling the Israeli raid a "bloody massacre" and demanding that Washington condemn the raid. The White House has reacted cautiously, calling for disclosure of all the facts.

The pro-Palestinian flotilla had been headed to Gaza with tens of thousands of tons of aid that Israel bans from Gaza. After days of warnings, Israel intercepted the flotilla under the cover of darkness early Monday, setting off a violent melee that left nine activists dead and dozens of people, including seven soldiers, wounded. Most of the dead were believed to be Turks.

Latest developments:

  • Israel began expelling some of the activists rounded up in the naval raid. Government officials said they would deport most of the 700 activists within the next two days, but about 50 will be held for investigation.
  • Pro-Palestinian activists sent another boat to challenge Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military refused to say how it would respond to the arrival of new Gaza-bound ships. But Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, "there is no change in policy" and urged activists to send the aid into Gaza through current, authorized means.
  • Egypt and Israel agreed on a temporary easing of the Gaza blockade. Egypt has freely opened its border with Gaza for the first time in a year to allow aid.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, indicated Israel would consider ways to ease the blockade to allow more goods into Gaza. But he stressed that Israel could not end the blockade, fearing that Hamas would ship rockets and other weapons into the area.
  • Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke to his Turkish counterpart as well as their chief of staff Monday, and they agreed that the raid wouldn't affect weapons deals, defense officials said.
  • Turkey canceled three joint land and sea exercises with Israel, but appeared to be otherwise maintaining deep military ties that include the planned delivery of $183 million in Israeli drones this summer.

Protests around the world

Israeli hospital officials said an American woman lost her eye during a demonstration Monday in Jerusalem against the naval raid. Emily Henochowicz of Maryland was in intensive care after undergoing surgery, said hospital spokeswoman Yael Bossem-Levy. Witnesses said Henochowicz, 21, was hit by a tear gas canister in the face while Palestinian youths were throwing rocks, although she was standing at a distance.

Protests erupted in a number of Muslim countries, including Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia, where a Palestinian man slashed himself outside the U.S. Embassy.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an outspoken critic of Israel, told lawmakers the Israeli raid was an attack "on international law, the conscience of humanity and world peace."

Thousands of pro-Islamic and nationalist Turks have poured into the streets in Istanbul and Ankara since the report of the Israeli raid. Protesters with Palestinian and Turkish flags shouted "Down with Israel!" outside Israeli diplomatic missions.

Within Israel, the raid sparked intense debate over why the military operation went awry. Israeli military analysts said it was a mistake to send commandos to board the Marmara and the military could have used non-lethal weapons such as tear gas. They also said the intelligence-gathering was faulty.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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