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Israel attacks Gaza aid flotilla: activists killed and wounded

As noticias son confusas e contradictorias, porque o incidente foi de madrugada e en augas internacionais, pero indican que o exército de Israel causou un masacre ao atacar barcos da flotilla humanitaria que se dirixía á Faixa de Gaza. Copio a información e a análise aparecidos esta mesma mañá no xornal israelí Haaretz

“At least 10 activists killed in Israel Navy clashes onboard Gaza aid flotilla” (Haaretz, 31 – V – 2010)

IDF says 10 killed, 2 commandos wounded, troops attacked when trying to board ships; Turkish TV says over 60 pro-Palestinian campaigners wounded after aid convoy bound for Gaza ignored Israel’s order to turn back.

By Anshel Pfeffer, Avi Issacharoff, The Associated Press and Reuters.

Israel Navy troops opened fire on pro-Palestinian activists aboard a six-ship aid flotilla sailing for the Gaza Strip early Monday, killing at least 10 and wounding several others after the convoy ignored orders to turn back.

The Israeli military said 10 activists were killed after its troops came under fire while intercepting the convoy. Unofficial reports put the death toll at between 14 and 20.

Turkey’s NTV said over 60 were also wounded after Israel Defense Forces [IDF] vessels stormed the flotilla in international waters.

“Our initial findings show that at least 10 convoy participants were killed,” an army spokesman said.

The military said in a statement: “Navy fighters took control of six ships that tried to violate the naval blockade (of the Gaza Strip) … During the takeover, the soldiers encountered serious physical violence by the protesters, who attacked them with live fire.”

The IDF earlier confirmed that two navy commandos had been wounded in fight, which apparently broke out after activists tried to sieze their weapons.

According to the IDF, commandos who stormed the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, the largest vessel in the convoy, encountered violent resistance from activists armed with sticks and knives.

Activists attacked a commando with iron bars as he descended onto the ship from a helicopter, the army said. The IDF said its rules of engagement allowed troops to open fire in what it called a “life-threatening situation”.

Elite troops from Shayetet 13, a naval commando unit, boarded the protest boats at around 4:00 A.M. Earlier Monday, Al Jazeera reported that the Gaza aid flotilla had changed course to avoid a confrontation with Israeli warships.

The Israeli naval vessels reportedly made contact earlier with the six-ship flotilla, which is carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza.

Some 700 pro-Palestinian activists are on the boats, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and an elderly Holocaust survivor.

The Israeli navy was operating under the assumption that the activists manning the boats would not heed their calls to turn around, and Israeli troops were prepared to board the ships and steer them away from the Gaza shores and toward the Israeli port city of Ashdod.

Huwaida Arraf, one of the flotilla organizers, said the six-ship flotilla began the journey from international waters off the coast of Cyprus on Sunday afternoon after two days of delays. According to organizers, the flotilla was expected to reach Gaza, about 400 kilometers away, on Monday afternoon, and two more ships would follow in a second wave.

The flotilla was fully prepared for the different scenarios that might arise, and organizers were hopeful that Israeli authorities would do what’s right and not stop the convoy, one of the organizers said.

“We fully intend to go to Gaza regardless of any intimidation or threats of violence against us”, Arraf said. “They are going to have to forcefully stop us”.

After nightfall, three Israeli navy missile boats left their base in Haifa, heading out to sea to confront the activists’ ships.

Two hours later, Israel Radio broadcast a recording of one of the missile boats warning the flotilla not to approach Gaza.

“If you ignore this order and enter the blockaded area, the Israeli navy will be forced to take all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade,” the radio message continued.

The flotilla, which includes three cargo ships and three passenger ships, is trying to draw attention to Israel’s three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. The boats are carrying items that Israel bars from reaching Gaza, like cement and other building materials.

The activists said they also were carrying hundreds of electric-powered wheelchairs, prefabricated homes and water purifiers.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that after a security check, permitted humanitarian aid confiscated from the boats will be transferred to Gaza through authorized channels. However, Israel would not transfer items it has banned from Gaza under its blockade rules. Palmor said that for example, cement would be allowed only if it is tied to a specific project.

This is the ninth time that the Free Gaza movement has tried to ship in humanitarian aid to Gaza since August 2008.

Israel has let ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since the three-week military offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers in January 2009. The flotilla bound for Gaza is the largest to date.

The mission has experienced repeated delays, both due to mechanical problems and a decision by Cyprus to bar any boat from sailing from its shore to Gaza. The ban forced a group of European lawmakers to depart from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot northern part of the island late Saturday.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas militants violently seized control of the seaside territory in June 2007.

Israel says the measures are needed to prevent Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets at Israel, from building up its arsenal. But United Nations officials and international aid groups say the blockade has been counterproductive, failing to weaken the Islamic militant group while devastating the local economy.

Israel rejects claims of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying it allows more than enough food and medicine into the territory. The Israelis also point to the bustling smuggling industry along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, which has managed to bring consumer goods, gasoline and livestock into the seaside strip.

Israel has condemned the flotilla as a provocation and vowed to block it from reaching Gaza. Israeli military officials said they hoped to resolve the situation peacefully but are prepared for all scenarios. Naval commandos have been training for days in anticipation of the standoff. Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity under official guidelines, said the forces would likely take over the boats under the cover of darkness.

Palmor said foreigners on the ships would be sent back to their countries. Activists who did not willingly agree to be deported would be detained. A special detention facility had been set up in Ashdod.

“Analysis: After Monday’s ocean bloodbath, Israel must work fast to prevent a third intifada” (Haaretz, 31 – V – 2010)

If rumors are confirmed that Muslim leader Raed Salah is among casualties of Israel’s raid on a Gaza aid convoy, the countries Arab population could explode.

By Amos Harel.

Some initial reactions to Monday’s mid-ocean bloodbath.

1. Measuring the damage. The exact casualty toll during Israel’s interception of the aid convoy bound for Gaza is still unclear. Israel has yet to release official and detailed reports but it is known that several IDF commandos were wounded. Unofficial reports from outside Israel put the death toll at between 14 and 20, with dozens hurt. The nationalities of the casualties are not known. But there is a strong possibility that Arab-Israel leaders, including Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement‘s northern branch, is among them.

The damage that Israel has caused itself internationally can hardly be exaggerated. A previous crisis with Turkey that broke out earlier this year after Israel humiliated Ankara’s ambassador now looks like small change in comparison.

Even before then, relations with Turkey had deteriorated over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and the generally anti-Israeli stance taken by Turkey moderately Islamist government. The new crisis is likely to lead to a total break in ties.

The response from the European Union, whose citizens made up a large portion of the convoy’s passenger list, is likely to be little softer. Israel will present its case, show footage to prove that activists attacked its commandos with bars and knives – but all that will have little effect on the end result. The world will judge the incident as an excessive use of force with no clear justification.

Monday’s events will also have consequences for the government’s relationship with the Palestinians, and with the country’s own Arab minority. Hamas will try to fan the flames to divert the debate away from the trap into which it has led the citizens of blockaded Gaza. It is not unlikely that there will be an escalation on Israel’s Gaza border, as well as violent protests in the West Bank.

But the central story here is Israel’s Arabs. If Salah is indeed among the casualties, the result could be a wave of riots led by Islamic Movement activists. Targeted provocations by Islamists and left-wing activists will now take on strategic significance. Under certain circumstances, and if both sides fail to take steps to clam the situation, this could even end in a third intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

2. The commandos are not blame. There is no reason to level accusations at the troops themselves. A severely outnumbered commando lowered at the end of a rope onto the deck of a ship from a helicopter to finds himself attacked with knives has no option but to defend himself from what could be a lynch mob. If, despite all the briefings prior to the operation on the use of proportionate force, he opened fire, it is a fair indication that he had no other course of action.

But this shouldn’t eclipse the point that the operation as a whole was a total failure. It failed to meet it declared goals – taking control of the convoy while minimizing the international fallout. There are a several elements that will need investigation: Preparations for the operation (it seems the IDF had not anticipated the level of resistance it encountered – might it not perhaps have been preferable to go in with a larger force, rather than relying on small teams dropped from helicopters?); and the use of intelligence: What did the army know in advance about weapons – clubs, knives or guns – held by the activists? What was the level of visual coverage of the ship during the operation?

In the next few days we will hear Israeli spokespeople bend over backwards to convince us that the navy had no choice, that the other side was to blame. Anyone who attacks a soldier with a knife can hardly be surprised to meet with a violent response – but Israel needs to examine its actions. “Don’t fool yourselves,” said one experienced army man on Monday morning. When the spin dies down, we will have to take a deep look at the way the IDF operates. You can be sure that this sort of incident will be handled very differently in the future.”

3. The heart of the matter: Political decision-making. There will be a need for a detailed investigation into the all the decisions, by political and defense figures at every level, that led to Monday’s incident: Starting with the decision by the previous government, under Ehud Olmert, to impose a failed blockade on Gaza (although that administration on one occasion allowed protest a boat through) – through to the Netanyahu government’s decision to enforce the siege with its raid on the ‘Freedom Flotilla’; and including the involvement of politicians in planning the interception. In view of the long-term consequences, particularly on an international level, it seems there will be no alternative but to appoint an independent committee of inquiry. If in the next few hours we begin to hear conflicting versions of events beyond the official line that the government has so far sold to the media, we will have the best possible indication that politicians understand this.

4. PR failure. Israel knew in advance that it was headed for confrontation, both at sea and in the media. Pictures of armed commandos taking on protesters never play well internationally. The government formed a dual strategy: Jamming broadcast signals from the boats themselves and allowing select pool of local and international journalists, allowed to travel aboard one of the navy’s missile boats on condition they did not transmit any footage before returning to shore. Even their cellular phones were confiscated.

The interim result, as of mid-morning Monday: Decisive victory for the Turks. The blackout did not work fully, with the result that bloody images were beamed across the world – no matter that they were only blurry footage from a mobile phone camera.

On the Israeli side, there silence. Israeli writers aboard the navy boat are forbidden by the censor from reporting and as yet we haven’t heard a thing from them. At around 10:00 A.M. the army spokesman made a preliminary broadcast. But the electronic media abhor a vacuum: If Israel does not move to fill it, the other side certainly will.

31 Maio 2010 - Posted by | Human Rights, Israel, Palestine, Politics

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