The Israel Defence Force has murdered at least 16 people after storming ships on the high sea bound for Gaza. The six ships of the flotilla were carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid and around 600 human right activists from around the world who were determined to break Israel’s three year long blockade of the Palestinian territory. Israel had repeatedly said it would not let them in and IDF forces boarded the boats around 65km off Gaza before beginning their killing spree. Free Gaza Movement, the organisers of the flotilla, said the troops opened fire as soon as they stormed the convoy despite the raising of a white flag.
With the flotilla carrying mainly medical and food supplies, most of the world’s governments have condemned Israel’s provocative actions. Israeli police are on high alert across the country to prevent any civil disturbances. Meanwhile in Gaza, the Hamas government held an emergency meeting chaired by premier Ismail Haneya, following the Israeli Television Channel 10 report that 16 activists on the ships were killed and 30 wounded, including the Israeli-Arab Islamic activist Sheikh Raed Sallah (though the Jerusalem Post said he is injured not dead).
The IDF version of events needs to be treated with extreme caution but they said soldiers were attacked with knives and clubs as they boarded the six vessels. It said the violence turned deadly when an activist grabbed a weapon from one of the commandos. “The weapon discharged,” they said ambiguously not making it clear whether the activist fired it or if it went off accidentally.
The six ships of the flotilla sailed under Turkish and American flags and set off from Cyprus yesterday. Israeli forces said they would not allow them to land and the flotilla deliberated slowed down so that any forced landing would happen in daylight hours to maximize the media exposure. Meanwhile at the port in Gaza City, Hamas prepared a welcoming party with marquees and a buffet to greet the flotilla which was expected mid-afternoon today.
The first contact happened 200 kms off the Gaza shore. The IDF contacted the flotilla by radio and told them the Gaza Strip was a closed military zone. They offered them two options either follow the navy to Ashdod Port in Israel or else be commandeered by commandos. "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 IDF told them. The flotilla radar detected three Israeli ships in the area. After boarding the vessels and going on a shooting spree, the IDF towed the vessels to Ashdod.
The Hamas Government in Gaza said it considered the dead activists "as the martyrs of the Freedom Flotilla, adding that "the world should put an end to the biggest country of pirates.” Meanwhile Gaza premier Ismail Hanaya called the attack an international crime and a political scandal carried out according to an Israeli military order. “I call on the Palestinian Authority to immediately suspend its negotiations with Israel,” he said. He also called for street protects and the Arab states to respond to “end the unfair Israeli siege."
Israel justified its actions saying it already allows 15,000 tonnes of aid into Gaza each week. However the UN said this is just a quarter of what the Gaza Strip needs. Somewhere between 35 and 60 percent of Gaza’s agriculture industry was destroyed by Israel’s three week long invasion in 2008-2009 which left the land contaminated and cratered. This is the ninth time that the Free Gaza movement has tried to ship in humanitarian aid to Gaza since August 2008 but only five have been successful and none since Operation Cast Lead turned Gaza into a wasteland. The latest action confirms Israel is prepared to thumb its nose at international criticism as it lurches further into right-wing extremist nationalism.