By Tom Tillison
Orlando Political Press
Israeli naval commandos boarded a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine activists, identified as passengers by a sympathetic media, in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis.
Dozens of activists and six Israeli soldiers were wounded in the bloody predawn confrontation in international waters. The violent takeover dealt yet another blow to Israel’s international image, already tarnished by war crimes accusations in Gaza and its 3-year-old blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu canceled a much-anticipated meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday in a sign of just how gravely Israel viewed the international uproar. In Canada, Netanyahu announced he was rushing home.
Israel said it opened fire after its commandos were attacked by knives, clubs and live fire from two pistols wrested from soldiers after they rappelled from a helicopter to board one of the vessels. Late Monday, it released a grainy black-and-white video that it said supported its version of events.
The left-wing activists on board tried to lynch the Israel Navy commandos who stormed their Turkish-flagged ship early Monday, Israel Defense Forces sources told Haaretz.
The commandos, who intercepted the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara after it ignored orders to turn back, said they encountered violent resistance from activists armed with sticks and knives. According to the soldiers, the activists threw one of their comrades from the upper deck to the lower after they boarded.
One of the commandos told reporters he descended by rope from a helicopter onto one of the six ships in the convoy and was immediately attacked by a group of people waiting for them.
“They beat us with metal sticks and knives,” he said. “There was live fire at some point against us.”
They jumped me, hit me with clubs and bottles and stole my rifle,” another commandos said. “I pulled out my pistol and had no choice but to shoot.”
A Reuters cameraman on the Israeli navy ship Kidon close to the six-vessel aid convoy said commanders monitoring the operation were surprised by the strong resistance put up by the pro-Palestinian activists.
The Israel Defense Forces 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 U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting later Monday to hear a briefing on the incident, said Lebanon’s Deputy Ambassador Caroline Ziade, whose country holds the council presidency. The Arab League called for a meeting to discuss the issue Tuesday in Cairo.
The showdown came at a sensitive time for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Netanyahu, who expressed his “full backing” for the military raid, had hoped to receive a high-profile expression of support from Obama after months of strained relations over Israeli settlement construction.
The White House said in a written statement that the United States “deeply regrets” the loss of life and injuries and was working to understand the circumstances surrounding this “tragedy.”
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