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U.S. citizen among dead as witnesses recount Israeli raid

One of the nine activists killed in an Israeli raid of a Gaza-bound flotilla this week was a dual citizen of Turkey and the United States, Turkish news agencies and the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.

Today’s Zaman, a Turkish newspaper, identified the victim as Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old American of Turkish descent who had settled with his family in Turkey after several years in the U.S. The state-run Anatolia News Agency said Dogan had been shot once in the chest and four times in the head at close range. A State Department spokesman confirmed Dogan’s identity, but not the account of his death, at a daily press briefing on Thursday.

The revelation came as journalists on board the ships began to recount the events leading to the deadly raid. Jamal ElShayyal, a producer for Aljazeera, told the network on Thursday that Israeli forces began firing on the ships before actually encountering any of the activists on board:

There was definitely fire from the air, because one of the people who was killed was clearly shot from above. The bullet targeted him at the top of his head. There was also fire coming from the sea as well. Most of the fire initially from the sea was tear gas canisters, sound grenades, but then it became live fire. After I finished filing that last report and I was going down below deck, one of the passengers who was on the side of the deck holding a water hose, trying to hose down, if you will, the advancing Israeli Navy, was shot off in his arm by soldiers in the boats below.

Dogan’s death, and the accounts of journalists on the flotilla, promised to complicate an already tense diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, which has condemned the raid and been increasingly confrontational toward Israel and the West in recent days. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Tel Aviv was about to lose its “best friend in the region,” according to the Cihan News Agency.

As Need to Know has reported, the flotilla and subsequent response were seen by many as an attempt on Turkey’s part to reassert its authority in the Middle East, after giving up on efforts to fully integrate into the Euro zone. The strategy appeared to be working on Thursday, as leaders from across the region expressed sympathy for Turkey and continued to call for an international investigation of the incident.

The head of the Kurdish regional administration in northern Iraq, in Ankara for an official visit, said, “This has to end once and for all. We are in no way in favor of the continuation of violence. We do not separate our security from that of Turkey. We will exert any kind of effort to stop these saddening events.”

The international pressure may also prompt Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza, in place since Hamas took control of the region in local elections in 2006. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the behest of U.S. officials, was considering lifting the blockade or easing access to the Gaza strip.

Netanyahu continued to defend the raid and paint the flotilla as an intentional provocation of the Israeli Navy. On Thursday, the Israeli Defense Forces released another video apparently confiscated from a journalist on board the Mavi Marmara, in which a passenger expresses hope that he will become a martyr:

United Nations officials and humanitarian organizations say the Gaza blockade has prevented Palestinians there from rebuilding after a crippling war with Hamas in 2008. Hamas, for its part, said on Thursday that it would refuse the cargo from the flotilla unless Israel lifted its restrictions on certain items, such as construction materials, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Hardline elements within Netanyahu’s center-right government, however, continued to hit back at Israel’s international critics. On Thursday, Interior Minister Eli Yishai called on the government to revoke the Israeli citizenship of an Arab Knesset member, Hanin Zuabi, who had participated in the flotilla, saying she had “headed a group of terrorists who aimed to hurt Israel Defense Forces soldiers.”

The Israeli Knesset nearly broke out into a riot when Zuabi tried to speak at a session on Wednesday:

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian activists continued to challenge Israel, by sending two more ships to break the blockade and securing funding for a second flotilla in the coming weeks. Arutz Sheva, an Israeli media organization, reported that the Israeli Navy was prepared to intercept the two ships, and that it had already conducted “covert action” to prevent them from sailing for Gaza along with the original flotilla.

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