Israeli commandos stormed a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza early Monday morning, killing at least nine people and sparking protests in Arab capitals across the world.
News accounts differed as to the number of dead. Al Jazeera reported that as many as 19 had been killed, while the Jerusalem Post put the number at 15. The Post called the incident a “botched naval raid.”
The attack earned Israel widespread international condemnation, with many countries canceling planned military exercises with Israel and visits from Israeli officials. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a planned trip to the United States this week to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with President Obama.
The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on the flotilla attack at 1 p.m., Reuters reported. The U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon expressed outrage and called for an investigation, according to The Times of London:
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked” by the deadly raid. “I condemn this violence,” he told a press conference in Kampala, Uganda, where he is attending a conference on the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place,” Mr Ban said. “I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.” He spoke moments after a speech hailing the “new age of accountability” heralded by the creation of the ICC in 2002, of which Israel is not a member.
The organizers of the flotilla had told Need to Know on Friday that they were prepared to break the blockade by any means necessary, and would do their best to evade capture by the Israeli Navy. They also came prepared for a protracted stand-off with Israeli soldiers, saying they doubted the army would use force right away.
There was also considerable involvement in the flotilla by Turkey, which has historically been one of the few Muslim countries in the world to have strong relations with Israel. One of the largest passenger ships was sent by the Turkish humanitarian organization Insani Yardim Vakfi, with the implicit support of the Turkish government. The Free Gaza organization said Monday that at least six of the dead were Turkish citizens, and thousands of people gathered in Istanbul to protest the Israeli raid, chanting “murderous Israel, you will drown in the blood you shed.”
Greta Berlin, one of the founders of the Free Gaza movement, which helped organize the flotilla, told Need to Know on Friday that she doubted Israel would use force on the ships because it would most likely want to avoid a conflict with Turkey.
“I don’t think they want to have a confrontation with Turkey, that’s the least thing that they want to do,” Berlin said in a telephone interview from Cyprus before the ships set sail. Of Israeli threats to board the ships and detain the activists, she added: “If you’ve seen the Turkish ships, they’re enormous. Not only is the Turkish passenger ship large, the cargo ships are large. So it’s not going to be an easy thing.”