Statement by Israel's Netanyahu on flotilla deaths

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the following statement on Monday about the storming of an aid convoy heading toward Gaza. He was speaking during a photo opportunity at the end of a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa:

"We are in the middle of unfolding events as a result of what happened yesterday. I explained to the Prime Minister that I would have to cut my visit short and go back to Israel. I just had a conversation with President Obama and I told him that I would have to go back to Israel. We both agreed that we'd have very close consultations right now and try to reschedule our meeting to the earliest date possible.

"I think both Prime Minister Harper and President Obama understand that Israel has a great security problem and I want to put that into context. The context is that Gaza has become a base for Hamas terrorists backed by Iran. They have fired thousands of rockets into Israel. They are amassing thousands more rockets to fire at our cities, at our towns, at our children.

"Our policy is this -- we try to let in all humanitarian goods into Gaza, all peaceful commodities, food, medicine, and the like. What we want to prevent coming into Gaza are rockets, missiles, explosives and war materials that could be used to attack our civilians. This is an ongoing policy and it was the one that guided our action yesterday. We told the flotilla of ships, we said, 'You can take all your cargo, put it in our port of Ashdod, we'll just ferret out if there are any war materials, and the rest will go through'.

"We succeeded in doing this peacefully with five of the six ships. The sixth ship, the largest, which had hundreds of people on it, not only did not cooperate in this effort peacefully, they deliberately attacked the first soldiers who came on the ship. They were mobbed, they were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed, there was even a report of gunfire. And our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives, or they would have been killed.

"And regrettably in this exchange at least 10 people died. We regret this loss of life. We regret any of the violence that was there. We would like -- I would like to wish speedy recovery to the wounded, including to four of our own soldiers.

"Our policy was and will continue to be that Israel would let humanitarian aid, any kind of goods that are meant for peace, to the civilian population of Gaza. We have no problems with the people of Gaza. We do have a conflict with the terrorist regime of Hamas, supported by Iran. We want to maintain a situation where we prevent weapons and war materials from coming into Gaza, and allowing humanitarian aid to go to the population of Gaza. That is a difficult task, we'll be talking to our friends in Canada and the United States and all the governments and let them have the available information as we uncover it. Thank you very much."

[Source: Reuters, Ottawa, 31May10]

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