A flotilla of ships carrying 10 tons of humanitarian aid along with some 600 pro-Palestinian activists has been attacked and stopped by Israeli forces bent on preventing the aid from reaching the blockaded Gaza territory.
The Israeli forces attacked the vessels in international waters, about 80 miles from the coast of Gaza. Associated Press is reporting nine deaths and 30 wounded, included six Israelis. Most of the dead were Turks. The ships were escorted to Ashdod on the Israeli coast and the wounded were evacuated. Sixteen people were arrested and jailed for refusing to identify themselves. All the activists currently are being held without access to outside communications.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated “The entire flotilla is a political and media provocation by anti-Israeli activists. They have absolutely nothing to do with humanitarian aid.” Israeli foreign minister labeled the incident an attack against Israeli sovereignty.
The 1.5 million residents of Gaza have endured three years of a blockade by Israel, which aims to prevent weapons from reaching the territory while bringing down the Hamas-led government, which took power in 2007. A 2008 UN report notes that 52% of Gaza households live below the poverty line, while a Palestinian survey that year stated that 80% of Gaza families are poor. In March 2010 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the blockade of Gaza is causing “unacceptable suffering”; while he urged all Gazans to “choose the path of non-violence, Palestinian unity and international legitimacy”, he also said the blockade was counter-productive in that it made legitimate business all but impossible and encouraged smuggling.
This raw video footage shows the confusion and fear during the minutes following the Israeli forces landing on one of the ships:
There are conflicting reports on whether or to what degree the armed Israeli forces met with resistance. This video, released by Israeli Defense Forces, purports to show Israeli troops being attacked with poles by activists on one of the boats boarded:
The incident is certain to have repercussions, including negative PR for the Israeli government, which had publicly vowed that the flotilla would not be allowed to land in Gaza. As news of the attack spread, demonstrations took place in Britain, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and the Palestinian territories; Israel’s lone ally in the area, Turkey, has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv. Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a planned Tuesday visit to the White House in the wake of the incident.
The certain losers here, as so often happens, are the people of Gaza, trapped by a blockade and the intransigence of the governments that control them.
Photo: One of the flotilla's ships leaving port in Turkey before the attack
AlJazeera English via YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dY2hkfTgEI