Israel calls Gaza-bound activists 'thugs'

JERUSALEM /*Benjamin Netanyahu*/ said the Turkish activists boarded the aid ship in a different city from the rest of the passengers.

Netanyahu's efforts to portray the activists as /*terrorists*/ is garnering harsh international condemnation and is leaving the Jewish state isolated and at odds with some of its closest allies.

Last Monday's fatal operation, in which nine activists were killed aboard an aid ship headed to the blockaded /*Gaza Strip*/, has soured /*Israel*/'s relationship with /*Turkey*/. The bloody ordeal also brought on heavy pressures on Israel to lift the 3-year blockade of /*Hamas*/-ruled Gaza.

Netanyahu told his Cabinet that "dozens of thugs" from "an extremist, terrorism-supporting" organization had readied themselves for the arrival of the naval commandos.

However, Turkish officials said that all passengers boarded the aid ship in the Turkish port of Antalya and rejected accusations that those involved in last week's incident were terrorists.

On Sunday, Netanyahu rejected a proposal by /*U.N.*/ chief Ban Ki-moon for an international commission to investigate the raid, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.

They added that Netanyahu was open to a probe but did not agree with the exact format suggested by the U.N. chief.

Outrage over the deaths has prompted calls from many nations, including the U.S., for at least a partial lifting of a blockade Israel imposed, along with /*Egypt*/, after the militant Islamic Hamas overran Gaza in June 2007.

On Saturday, Israel commandeered another aid ship without incident. All 19 activists, including a Nobel Peace laureate, and crew aboard the "Rachel Corrie" were deported Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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