June 1, 2010
Turkey demands Israel be ‘punished’ over Gaza raid
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Turkey demanded today that Israel be punished for yesterday’s bungled commando raid on a flotilla of ships taking humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip as international condemnation of the killings reached fever pitch.
At least nine activists, four of them identified as Turks and the remaining five thought also to be Turkish, were killed in the pre-dawn raid in international waters, when Israeli commandos rapelled from helicopters onto the fleet of ships.
Up to 40 Britons were among those detained and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it was "urgently seeking access" to all of them. Foreign Office sources said, however, that many of those detained had refused to give their names to the Israelis, making it hard to give firm numbers of Britons involved.
It was confirmed earlier that one Briton, Ahsan Shamruk, was injured in the attack and had received medical treatment.
The first activists to be released claimed today that the soldiers had beaten passengers and used electric shocks to subdue them, but Israeli officials insisted that they had only opened fire after coming under attack from activists on the lead vessel, the Mavi Marmara.
After 12 hours of negotiations that stretched into the early hours, the UN Security Council issued a statement demanding an “impartial” investigation of the deaths and condemning the “acts” that led to it.
Thanks to blocking action from the Americans, Israel’s closest ally, the presidential statement was notably weaker, however, than that drafted by Turkey, the Palestinians and Arab states, which had called for condemnation “in the strongest terms” and an independent international inquiry.
The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who interrupted a trip to Chile after the killings, told MPs from his ruling Justice and Development Party that “dry statements of condemnation” were not enough and Turkey demanded “results”.
“The insolent, irresponsible and impudent attack by Israel, which went against law and trampled human honour underfoot, must definitely be punished,” Mr Erdogan said.
“Nobody should test Turkey’s patience. Turkey’s enmity is as violent as its friendship is valuable. Losing Turkey’s friendship is a cost all on its own.”
The pro-Palestinian groups which organised the flotilla said that they would send more ships with humanitarian supplies for the besieged Gaza Strip, but Israel warned it will halt any new bid to breach its blockade of the Hamas-run territory.
The crisis has provided Britain’s coalition Government with its first foreign policy challenge. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, called on Israel today to lift its “unjustifiable and untenable” blockade of the Gaza Strip.
“Whilst, of course, Israel has every right to defend itself and its citizens from any attack, it must now move towards lifting the blockade in Gaza as soon as possible,” he said.
The Liberal Democrat leader’s comments echoed remarks by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who called on Israel yesterday to lift the blockade in line with UN Security Council resolutions.
Downing Street said that David Cameron had spoken by telephone to Binyamin Netanyahu to deplore the heavy loss of life and to urge him to ensure there was no repeat of yesterday’s events.
There was further confirmation of the attacks from President Medvedev of Russia, who said that the loss of lives was “absolutely unjustified,” while the European Union President Herman Van Rompuy called the events “inexplicable”.
Israel is still holding hundreds of activists detained in the raid but the first few deported said that the Israeli commandos had beaten passengers and used electric shocks during the assault.
Nilufer Cetin, a Turkish activists who hid with her baby in the bathroom of her cabin aboard the Mavi Marmara, told reporters she believed there were 11 dead.
“The ship turned into a lake of blood,” Mr Cetin told reporters in Istanbul after Israeli officials decided to deport her and her child.
She said Israeli vessels “harassed” the flotilla for two hours on Sunday night and then returned at around 4am yesterday, firing warning shots and telling the ships to turn back.
“When the Mavi Marmara continued on its course the harassment turned into an attack. They used smoke bombs followed by gas canisters. They started to descend onto the ship with helicopters,” she said, calling the clashes that then erupted “extremely bad and brutal.”
“I was one of the first victims to be released because I had a child,” she told reporters, but “they confiscated everything, our telephones, laptops are all gone.” Her husband - the ship’s engineer - was still being held by Israeli authorities.
Some 400 Turkish activists were on the six-ship flotilla, along with more than 30 Greeks and people of some 20 other nations including Germany, the United States and Russia. It had been trying to break the three-year blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel after the Hamas takeover.
“Suddenly from everywhere we saw inflatables coming at us, and within seconds fully equipped commandos came up on the boat,” said Dimitris Gielalis who had been aboard the Sfendoni and was one of six Greek activists returned home this morning.
“They came up and used plastic bullets, we had beatings, we had electric shocks, any method we can think of, they used,” he said.
He said the boat’s captain was beaten for refusing to leave the wheel, and had sustained non-life-threatening injuries, while a cameraman filming the raid was hit with a rifle butt in the eye,” he said. “Of course we weren’t prepared for a situation of war.”
The returning Greeks said those still in custody were refusing to sign papers demanded by Israeli authorities.
“During their interrogation, many of them were badly beaten in front of us,” said Aris Papadokostopoulos, who was aboard the Free Mediterranean traveling behind the Turkish ship and carrying mainly Greek and Swedish activists.