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Under Fire for Gaza Raid, Israel Blames Flotilla Organizers for Provocation

May 31, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Storms of protest raged around the world today after the Israeli raid on ships off Gaza. It happened in international waters. Organizers said they were trying to carry aid through an Israeli blockade.

The naval barrier went up three years ago, after the militant group Hamas seized control of Gaza. There had been previous attempts to get through, some successful. But, today, violence erupted.

We begin with a report from Julian Manyon of Independent Television News.

JULIAN MANYON: It was an operation the Israelis had rehearsed. Armed Israeli commandos repelled down from helicopters, but were confronted by pro-Palestinian activists wielding sticks, metal bars and knives. Then, in circumstances that are not yet clear, the Israeli troops opened fire. And the result was a bloodbath.

MAN: One person has just been hit in the head by a bullet. I think he may die if he doesn’t receive medical treatment immediately.

JULIAN MANYON: On the ships, there was chaos. The captain of one Turkish vessel appealed to his passengers to halt their resistance.

MAN: We have the main control of the ship. Please, come down and take your seats. Come down and take your seats.

JULIAN MANYON: Israel has released pictures of what it says were weapons used to attack the troops and of their naval officers warning the aid convoy which had set sail from Cyprus to halt before nearing Gaza.

MAN: You are approaching an area of hostility which is under a naval blockade.

JULIAN MANYON: Israel admits that the assault on the ships took place in international waters, but says it was intended to be a police operation.

LT. COL. AVITAL LEIBOVICH, spokesperson, Israeli Defense Forces: They chose to use violence. They had stocks different kinds of sticks, of knives, of metal objects. They took two pistols from our navy SEALs. They used the entire magazines on these pistols. They wounded our soldiers.

JULIAN MANYON: The Israeli army has now distributed video taken by a drone and captioned to show what it says are examples of activist violence.

A soldier is seen being thrown from the upper deck to the lower. The Turkish aid ship on which most of the deaths took place has now docked under guard at the Israeli port of Ashdod. Most of the remaining passengers and crew will be deported. Their stories have yet to be told.

GWEN IFILL: The raid provoked condemnation and protests around the world. In Turkey, furious crowds tried to storm the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul. Turkey’s prime minister accused the Israelis of state terrorism.

And, in London, crowds gathered to protest outside Number 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence. Later, in New York, the U.N. Security Council convened an emergency session.

AHMET DAVUTOGLU, Turkish foreign minister: No state is above the law. Israel must be prepared to face the consequences and be held accountable for its crimes. Under the conditions, any slim chance that existed regarding peace and stability in the region has suffered a serious setback.

AMBASSADOR ALEJANDRO WOLFF, U.S. deputy permanent representative to the United Nations: We are working to ascertain the facts. We expect a credible and transparent investigation, and strongly urge the Israeli government to investigate the incident fully.

DANIEL CARMON, Israeli deputy ambassador to the United Nations: The soldiers boarding one of the ships were most violently attacked with life-threatening means. Live ammunition, knives, clubs, and other types of weapons were used against IDF soldiers. The intentions was clear — were clear — to lynch the Israeli soldiers.

GWEN IFILL: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu cut short a visit to Canada, canceled a planned visit to the White House, and flew home.