Israeli attack on Gaza aid flotilla outrages world

The predawn Israeli naval forces attack against international aid convoy Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in which 20 activists on the board were killed and more than 30 wounded, outraged Arab and world countries.

Robert Serry, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, and Filippo Grandi, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), condemned in a joint statement the Israeli attack on Gaza Flotilla.

"We are shocked by reports of killings and injuries of people on board the convoy carrying supplies to Gaza, apparently in international waters. We condemn the violence and call for it to stop. The situation is still ongoing and we are awaiting confirmation of what has happened," said the joint statement.

Israeli and Turkish media reports said that hundreds of Israeli naval soldiers attacked the ships of the Freedom Flotilla and clashed with the activists, killing at least 20 and injuring about 30. Ten Israeli officers were also injured.

"However, we are in contact with the Israeli authorities to express our deep concern and to seek a full explanation. We are also urging them in the strongest terms to ensure that no further steps are taken that could endanger civilian lives," said the joint statement of UN officials.

The statement added that they "wish to make clear that such tragedies are entirely avoidable if Israel heeds the repeated calls of the international community to end its counterproductive and unacceptable blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip."

The Freedom Flotilla, which includes three ships and five vessels, was carrying around 700 activists, members of different Arab and European countries, as well as international solidarity movement members, and humanitarian aids, medicines and construction materials to Gaza.

Israel has imposed a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip and closed all its commercial crossings on the borders with the Gaza Strip right after Islamic Hamas movement seized control of the enclave by force in June 2007. However, Israel said humanitarian aid is allowed into the enclave.

Following the attack on the convoy, the governments of Sweden, Greece, France, Spain and Turkey summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their countries respectively for clarifications on what had happened, local and international media reports said.

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) called on the Arab League and the UN Security Council to hold emergency sessions to discuss the Israeli attack on Gaza Freedom Flotilla. A PNA statement called for investigating the Israeli attack on the aid convoy.

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a press statement it is a "brutal attack of Israeli forces against the Gaza flotilla," adding, "The Gaza flotilla is an international effort to break the Israeli siege on Gaza, bringing tons of humanitarian aid to help the 1.5 million Palestinians besieged there."

"What we have seen this morning is a war crime. These were civilian ships carrying civilians and civilian goods -- medicines, wheelchairs, food, construction materials -- intended for the 1.5 million Palestinians holed up under a cruel and criminal siege by Israel," said Erekat.

Referring to the current status of Gaza, he added "the Israeli government has been trying to deny that Gaza is under occupation. However, the fact that Israel is preventing humanitarian aid to freely access the besieged strip clearly shows that Gaza is still occupied."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently on a visit to Jordan, said in a statement published by the state-run Wafa news agency that "what Israel has committed against the activists of the Freedom Flotilla is a massacre," calling for three-day mourning and flags at half-mast.

Ismail Haneya, prime minister of the deposed Hamas government, described the Israeli attack as "the biggest piracy in the world." He telephoned several leaders in the world, and expressed his government's outrage over the Israeli attack.

[Source: Xinhua, Gaza, 31May10]

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