Israeli warships storm Freedom Flotilla

Foes and allies of Israel close ranks in condemning a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound ship with pro-Palestinian activists and a Gulf News reporter on board

  • Gaza aid ship attack
    Israeli forces approach one of six ships bound for Gaza in the Mediterranean Sea Image Credit: Reuters
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    Israeli soldiers stand guard on a missile ship as the Israeli navy intercepts a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in theImage Credit: AFP
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    A Palestinian woman holds a cloth to the bleeding face of an American activist who was wounded during clashes Image Credit: AP
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    Image Credit: Gulf News
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    A Palestinian boy flashes the victory sign and holds flowers as he swims near the port of Gaza City on May 31,Image Credit: AFP
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    A television grab made from the Turkish TV channel Cihan News Agency shows Israeli Navy troops storming the "MImage Credit: AFP
  • Gaza aid ship attack
    A television grab made from the Turkish TV channel Cihan News Agency shows an Israeli commando member stormingImage Credit: AFP/Cihan News Agency
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    Protesters take part in a demonstration at Taksim square in Istanbul. About 10,000 people gathered in the TurkImage Credit: AP
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    A Turkish demonstrator carries a Palestinian flag during an anti-Israeli protest in front of the Israeli ConsuImage Credit: AFP
  • Gaza aid ship attack
    A yacht from the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, with Israeli troops on board, enters the southern port of Ashdod.Image Credit: AFP
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    A pro-Palestinian activist is evacuated to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Occupied Jerusalem after Israeli navImage Credit: AFP
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    A television grab made on May 31, 2010 from the Turkish TV channel shows an injured human-rights activist onboImage Credit: AFP
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    This television screen grab taken from Al Jazeera news shows passengers scrambling as Israeli troops stormed tImage Credit: Gulf News
  • Gaza aid ship attack
    Television grab from Al Jazeera news shows a passenger in distress on the ship attacked by Israel. Image Credit: Gulf News
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    Israeli medics carry an injured soldier on a stretcher towards the sea so he can pray, after he arrived by armImage Credit: AP
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    Turkish and international activists stand on the deck of a Turkish ship shortly before Israeli warships allegeImage Credit: AP
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    Pro-Palestinian activists from Turkey, wearing life jackets, hold a news conference on board the Turkish ship Image Credit: Reuters
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    Palestinian flags wave in Gaza port (foreground) and Palestinians ride a boat in Gaza waters, a day before a fImage Credit: AP
  • Gaza aid ship attack
    Palestinians ride boats in Gaza waters and an Israeli navy vessel patrols (background) as a flotilla of aid shImage Credit: AP
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    In this photo released by the pro-Islamic Turkish aid organization IHH, Turkish and international activists stImage Credit: AP

Gaza: Shock and outrage swept the globe on Monday after Israeli commandos stormed a flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza, as the Jewish state's foes and allies closed ranks in condemning the deadly raid.

Latest developments:

21.11 - Gulf News regains contact with its reporter Abbas Al Lawati

Gulf News Reporter Abbas Al Lawati is fine and is in Israel. Abbas has called his brother in Dubai and conveyed the news. “I’m fine. Tell my parents I’m okay. There are 16 dead, 50 injured,” Abbas told his brother Mohammad over the phone. He said he was in Israel. The line got cut soon after.

20.30 - Obama urges Netanyahu to get facts on ship raid

US President Barack Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday he deeply regretted the loss of life in an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla and urged him to collect all the facts about the incident as soon as possible, the White House said.

Obama, in a phone call to Netanyahu, also said he understood the prime minister's decision to cancel their White House talks set for Tuesday to return home from Canada, and they agreed to reschedule a meeting "at the first opportunity," the White House said.

"The president expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today's incident, and concern for the wounded," it said. "The president also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning's tragic events as soon as possible."

19. 50 - Israeli police say 16 Gaza flotilla activists jailed after refusing to identify themselves

Israeli police say 16 pro-Palestinian activists from a Gaza-bound flotilla have been sent to jail after a deadly confrontation at sea. Dozens of other activists are to be deported. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says the activists were taken ashore and were jailed in the southern desert town of Beersheba after refusing to identify themselves. Israeli naval commandos stopped the six-ship flotilla early Monday, setting off a fierce clash that killed nine activists. Israel has said it will deport the roughly 700 activists in the flotilla. But those who refuse to cooperate will be jailed. About 80 activists have been brought to shore so far.

19. 15 - Boats have started to dock at the port of Ashdod and people are being detained. Hopefully we will begin to get news of the status of Gulf News reporter Abbas Al Lawati

Video: Gulf News reporter lost at sea

Blog: Sailing to Gaza on the Freedom Flotilla

19. 13 - Turkish PM Erdogan calls Israeli raid on aid flotilla 'state terror'

19.09 - Merkel tells Israeli, Turkish leaders of 'deep concern'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday she had telephoned the leaders of both Israel and Turkey to express her "deep concern" over Israel's raid on an aid convoy bound for the Gaza Strip.

"I spoke... on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu, as well as with Turkish Prime Minister (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan, and I made clear my deep concern," Merkel told reporters in Berlin.

International reaction to Israeli attack on Freedom Flotilla

18.33 - UN to hold emergency talks

The UN Security Council was to hold emergency talks Monday on the crisis triggered after Israeli navy commandos stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, killing up to 19 people, a UN diplomat said.

The talks would take place at 9:00 pm UAE time (1700 GMT), the diplomat said.

The UN Security Council is currently chaired by Lebanon until 0400 GMT Tuesday and earlier Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri had called for an emergency session in the wake of the deadly Israeli raid.

"Prime Minister Hariri has asked the Lebanese delegation at the UN to call for an emergency meeting over what happened today," a Lebanese official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

An eyewitness tweets from Port Ashdod 

18. 25 - Israel PM cuts short Canada visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on Monday to leave Canada, cutting short his visit to Ottawa after a deadly navy raid which left at least 10 people dead, an Israeli official said. 

18:02 - Israeli prime minister to cancel his White House visit, AP reports.

17:50 - Israel Defence Force Spokesman Avi Benayahu says the Israeli naval commandos ran into violent, "almost unprecedented" resistance when they boarded the ships, with activists using knives, sticks and iron rods against them.

Activists tried to grab the weapon of one of the commandos and "apparently" even opened fire at the Israelis, he said.

"We didn't find peace activists, but very violent people," he added.

17:45 - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing his visit to Canada despite a diplomatic crisis over the deadly storming of an aid flotilla.

Netanyahu was to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa and give a joint press conference on Monday morning.

He has also expressed his "full backing" for the military, according to an army statement.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. the Israeli leader would continue his meetings Monday with Harper and with President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday.

17:29 - 16 Kuwaiti activists are safe, Kuwait TV reports. 

In a news flash, the state-run television said that the Kuwaitis were being questioned by the Israelis following the dawn attack on the ships.

The television said that it gathered the information about the Kuwaiti activists from unofficial sources it did not name.

MP Waleed Al Tabtabai and Mona Shashtar, a reporter for Kuwait News Agency are among the Kuwaitis detained by the Israelis.

17:16 - UN Security Council to meet over Gaza flotilla attack, say UN diplomats.

16:00 -  UAE condemns the Israeli attack. Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister, calls on the UN to carry out an investigation. Shaikh Abdullah says that the attack was "an unprovoked response against an act of humanitarian intentions."

15:34 - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he was "shocked" by the raid and demands the Jewish state conduct a full investigation.

Hamas called on Muslims to protest in front of Israeli embassies around the world, while the European Union demanded an inquiry into the attack. Kuwait and Turkey called for an emergency meeting on the situation.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa slammed the raid as a "crime" against a humanitarian mission, saying the 22-country body was consulting to decide on its next step.

Queen Rania tweets about the Freedom Flotilla

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to cut short an official trip to Canada and Washington and return home, Israel radio reported.

Read international reaction to the attack

Israel's army said more than 10 people died when its forces stormed the flotilla, while Israel TV put the death toll at 19 dead and 26 injured in the attacks on six ships. Al Jazeera TV and CNN Turk TV reported that at least 30 people were injured in the attack. Media reports said that the ships have started to dock on the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Israeli claims 'complete lies'

Responding to Israeli statements blaming the violence on organisers of the flotilla, a Turkish government official told Al Jazeera TV that the Turkish government had checked the aid ships sailing to Gaza prior to departure and they did not carry any weapons or live ammunition. He said Israeli claims that their forces were retaliating to live fire were "complete lies".

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak earlier claimed that the aid flotilla was a "political provocation" by anti-Israel forces, while Israel's military chief, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, said soldiers were forced by violent activists to respond with live fire.

According to Israel's private channel 10 television, Israeli marine commandos opened fire after being attacked with axes and knives by a number of the passengers on board the aid ships, the television said, without giving the source of its information.

Gulf News Editor-in-Chief speaks out on Gaza aid boat attack:

World reacts to naval raid

Police struggled to hold back an angry crowd of hundreds outside the Israeli consulate in Turkey's biggest city Istanbul, while furious protesters shouted "Damn Israel" outside the residence of the Israeli ambassador in Ankara.

Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, urged fellow Muslims to "rise up" in protest in front of Israeli embassies the world over, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning over the "massacre."

Watch Al Jazeera TV's video report:

Kuwait's parliament speaker condemned the raid on the flotilla, which was carrying 16 Kuwaitis including an MP, as a "heinous Israeli crime," as the cabinet prepared for an emergency meeting.

In Europe, condemnation was equally swift.

France said that "nothing can justify" the violence of Israel's Gaza ship raid, while German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was "deeply concerned" about the deaths.

The European Union demanded Israel mount a "full inquiry" into the attack, with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton warning that Israel's "continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive." She demanded "an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening" of crossings to Gaza.

Greece withdrew from joint military exercises with Israel in protest at the raid, as it summoned Israel's ambassador to demand an "immediate" report on the safety of about 30 Greeks on board the flotilla.

The Israeli attack sparked a strong reaction in Gaza, where people prepared for a huge demonstration in the main squares, witnesses told Gulf News.

Gazans were also seen sailing out in their fishing boats when they heard the news of the attack. Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas announced three days of mourning. Abbas condemned what he called "a massacre".

In Bahrain, Islamist societies and families waited for news about four Bahrainis who were on board one of the Gaza aid ships.

Calls have been made to Bahrain's embassies in Cairo and Jordan, UN agencies and Palestinian officials to find out about the whereabouts and conditions of Shaikh Jalal Al Sharqi, Khalid Abdul Kareem Bujeeri, Hassan Murad and Yusuf Mahmood. However, no news were available.

Israel army not sure who gave order to fire

Israeli army spokesman General Avi Benayahu said he did not know who ordered a naval commando to open fire after they boarded Gaza-bound aid ships where they killed at least 10 people.

"I don't know who gave the order to shoot, it is too early to determine," he told army radio. "The navy acts in accordance with orders and the rules for opening fire are very clear. The soldiers had been warned not to give in to provocations."

"The navy had developed models to prepare this operation, but sometimes life is more complicated than the models. We were prepared for a police mission to confront violence…" Benayahu said.

Israeli security forces were put on high alert to handle any on high "possible disturbances" among the country's Arab Israeli population in the wake of the naval raid, a police spokesman said.

Israel's Army Radio said the clashes broke out after the passengers allegedly tried to grab weapons off the naval commandos who tried to storm one of the boats.

Israel radio said at least one vessel was boarded by Israeli troops backed with helicopters. An unnamed Arab journalist traveling with the flotilla reported that shooting was taking place. Hamas-run TV showed pictures of the wounded. 

Gaza's Al Aqsa television also showed footage of black-clad Israeli commandos descending from helicopters and clashing with activists.

Israeli TV 10 reported that Israeli marine commandos opened fire after being attacked with axes and knives by a number of the passengers on board the aid ships.

The head of the Hamas, Esmail Haniya, condemned the "brutal" Israeli attack, adding: "We call on the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, to shoulder his responsibilities to protect the safety of the solidarity groups who were on board these ships and to secure their way to Gaza."

On Monday morning, three Israeli missile boats left their naval base in the northern coastal city of Haifa on a mission to intercept the Freedom Flotilla, reporters on board one of the vessels told Gulf News before being told to turn off their phones.

Gulf News reporter Abbas Al Lawati was on board the Mavi Marmara, which was attacked by Israeli forces. He lost contact with the Gulf News office when the Israelis blocked communication but had been blogging and sending live updates up to that point. Follow Abbas Al Lawati on twitter (@allawati

Emergency teams were distributing life jackets to people onboard the Gaza aid ships. Some passengers were seen wearing gas masks and sirens were heard before communication systems were jammed, making it difficult to reach anyone onboard.

Al Jazeera reported by telephone from the Turkish ship leading the flotilla that Israeli navy forces fired at the ship and boarded it, wounding the captain. The Turkish NTV network also reported an Israeli takeover with gunfire, and at least two people were killed.

The Al Jazeera broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, "Everybody shut up!"

Read special coverage of Gaza aid mission

A Turkish website showed video of pandemonium on board one of the ships, with activists in orange life jackets running around as some tried to help an activist apparently unconscious on the deck. The site also showed video of an Israeli helicopter flying overhead and Israeli warships nearby.

Map: Freedom Flotilla's journey

View Sailing to Gaza route map in a larger map  

Israeli official 'regrets' deaths

An Israeli cabinet minister voiced regret for deaths aboard the Gaza aid ships, the first official acknowledgement that the incident had turned fatal.

"The images are certainly not pleasant. I can only voice regret at all the fatalities," Trade and Industry Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Israel's Army Radio.

The minister's statement came after Hamas urged Arabs and Muslims to "rise up" in front of Israeli embassies across the globe in protest against Israel's deadly raid on a fleet of aid ships destined for the Gaza Strip.

It also came after Turkey warned that the attack could lead to "irreparable consequences" in bilateral ties, and after reports that stone-throwing protesters were trying to storm the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul. Rising tension in the country forced Israel to call on its citizens to leave the country, Al Arabiya TV reported.

Israeli military zone extended

Israel has extended the military zone it has designated off Gaza from 20 nautical miles to 68 miles, one of the organisers of the Freedom Flotilla said Sunday.

Professor Norman Baech, a German international law expert and former member of the German parliament who is on the Mavi Marmara, said that states that feel threatened often extend naval military zones up to 68 miles beyond their coasts.

 Israel's jurisdiction over Gaza's territorial waters are, however, disputed. Gaza is considered occupied by the international community but not by Israel, which does now allow Israel to justify its practices under its own laws.

It is believed that the military zone has been extended to pursue the flotilla in international waters, and away from the coast of Gaza. While Israel has in the past pursued such aid boats in international waters in the past, the move could be an attempt to have a legal cover.

The flotilla consists of six vessels that are attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza in defiance of Israel's naval blockade of the territory.

Beach said that such moves are only justifiable if states feel threatened. "We are no threat to Israel. We are only carrying humanitarian aid".

Watch a livestream of the flotilla

The Mavi Marmara, the largest passenger ship in the flotilla is carrying more than 550 passengers including two German members of the Bundestag, the parliament, and one Swedish member of parliament, who were transferred to the ship from the Challenger I.

The Challenger I was barred by the authorities in south Cyprus from leaving its ports to join the flotilla. Only after the intervention of the German and Turkish government were its passengers allowed to exit from the Turkish controlled North Cyprus.

With inputs from Habib Toumi, Bahrain Bureau Chief; Abbas Al Lawati, Staff Reporter; Nasser Najjar, Correspondent, and agencies. Follow our Gulf News reporter on as he reports on board a ship on the Freedom Flotilla.

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Latest Comment

Allah bless these brave people, now the world can see the realy face on Countires like Israel and India, killing poor people and talking them out from there land and home are indeed evil deed, May Allah bless your brothers and sisters in Palestine and Kashmir..... i reaquest all to bring such countries to justice....

Fahad Mahmoud

31 May 2010 18:51jump to comments