The news of the denouement in the saga of the “Free Gaza Flotilla” broke early this morning. Our access to information about the incident has been hampered by the fact that we are reduced to a dialup internet connection — a framstasis has failed in the tromulator unit on our satellite link, and no service technician will be available before tomorrow morning, thanks to the Memorial Day holiday. This post will be sent to the Blogger server by carrier pigeon or a 24K landline connection, whichever is faster.
It has been frustrating trying to learn more about what happened off the coast of Israel early today. Fortunately, our tireless tipster Insubria and our diligent Flemish correspondent VH have sent us a wealth of material on the topic, so the outlines of what happened are clear. Insubria’s material comes from ANSAmed, which has posted extensive coverage about the Flotilla and related stories. I can’t access the NYT or CNN to compare, but the articles he sent to us seems fairly comprehensive.
Before I launch into the actual details of what happened, it’s important to remember that this incident was a Turkish probe, designed to test the limits of what Israel will tolerate in terms of infringements on its sovereignty.
During the last six months or so the Islamic fundamentalist AKP party has quietly gutted the traditional leadership of the Turkish military by arresting a major portion of its senior officers and charging them with an attempted coup back in 2003. Ever since Ataturk founded the secular state of Turkey, the army has acted as a force for stability, and has functioned as a brake on any dangerous adventurism by the country’s political leaders. That moderating influence has now been neutralized, and Islamic zealots have all but complete control of Turkish foreign policy.
Turkey used to have a reasonably friendly and practical relationship with Israel — including military co-operation — but all that is the process of changing.
The flotilla was organized and backed by the Turks — operating through the convenient cover of a private NGO — with the assistance of useful idiots in the pro-Palestinian Left. It was a Turkish attempt to see how far Israel could be pushed, and Turkey seems to have received a somewhat surprising answer at the hands of Israeli commandos.
First, an overview of what happened, as reported by ANSAmed:
The attack carried out last night by Israeli forces on a multi-national flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists heading for the Gaza Strip carrying humanitarian aid has ended in a bloodbath, with at least 19 people dead. There have been serious and immediate protests from Turkey, who has recalled its ambassador to Israel, while governments in European capitals have expressed their shock at the killings.- - - - - - - - -
The activists, who were led by the NGO Free Gaza, wanted to force the blockade set up around the Gaza Strip when the Islamic group Hamas came into power in 2007. The clash occurred in international waters, a few dozen miles off the coast, on the vessel of a Turkish NGO that was leading the six-ship expedition.
Israeli commandos, who reached the ship using boats and helicopters, opened fire, killing 19 people, according to the latest reports from the Israeli television station Channel 10. An Israeli military spokesman has said that the chaos began when some activists attempted to resist the boarding of the marines using clubs, knives and at least one firearm, which is said to have been taken from an Israeli soldier. Twenty-six activists were injured, one of whom is in a critical condition. Among the injured is sheikh Raed Salah. Ten Israeli soldiers were also injured, two seriously.
Israel’s military spokesman has accused the organisers of the flotilla of organising a “violent provocation”. The first of the ships has already arrived at the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, which has been closed off to the media.
Israel has raised the level of alert on its northern border (with Lebanon) and also to the south, on the border with the Gaza Strip.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, has said that he is “shocked” by Israel’s attack on the pro-Palestinian activist fleet, as has the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. Great concern and grief has also been expressed by the Vatican. The Arab League has called an urgent meeting of its Foreign Ministers in Cairo tomorrow. Turkey, Greece, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Ireland have held talks with their respective ambassadors to Israel, and the European Union has called for the Jewish state to open an investigation.
There has been strong criticism from the governments of France and Germany, as well as from the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, who spoke of an “extremely serious incident” and said that he “deplores” the killing of civilians. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, currently on a visit to Canada, has been asked to return home.
Next comes a translation by VH of an article from HoeiBoei (Note: I am unable to check most of the links in this post, nor can I watch the videos. If readers find any broken links, please let me know):
Israeli commandos being attacked while boarding a ship in Free Gaza Fleet
In the night of 30 on May 31, Israeli commandos boarded the ships of the “Free Gaza” fleet on their way from Turkey to Israel.
Despite repeated requests to the captains of these ships to divert the course to Ashdod — the major port in southern Israel — the ships kept on sailing towards the coast of Gaza.
Organizers earlier had made clear that the purpose of the mission was to the break the naval blockade of Gaza (Hamas).
Israel has repeatedly stated that the Navy would not allow this action and had asked the leadership of the action to simply offload the humanitarian goods destined for Gaza in Ashdod. Also, an offer was rejected to give the Free Gaza organization supervision of the delivery of the goods into Gaza
With the departure of ships from Turkey repeatedly chants were raised like “Death to the Jews” (“Yitbakh Al Yahoed”)
From the start of the operation “Free Gaza” there was cooperation between Hamas and the organizers. (Source: Right Side News)
The boarding of five smaller ships of the Free Gaza fleet went smoothly without any significant violence. The largest boat “Mavi Marmara” contained the most activists, including many members of the IHH, a Turkish Islamist organization that collaborates with Hamas and Al Qaeda.
Also the leader of the extremist Islamic Movement in Israel, Raed Salah, was aboard that ship.
At the time that the Israeli commandos boarded the vessel they were attacked by a group of activists with knives and iron bars. The soldiers were also shot at with guns, and one of the soldiers was robbed of his weapon.
(in the circles among others, an attack with knives can be seen)
In the firefight that subsequently arose, 10 of the attackers were killed and 10 commandos were wounded. The wounded were treated by Israeli army doctors and transported by helicopter to hospitals in Israel.
The Israeli navy still has — at the time of publication of this report — no complete control over the ship Mavi Marmara, some activists have entrenched themselves in their huts.
The Israeli decision to conduct this action in international waters, was justified according to international law. According to the “San Remo Manual on International Law of conflict at sea” it is allowed to attack “neutral ships on the high seas when there is reason to believe that they are carrying contraband or intend a blockade. However, not until after they receive warnings, and willfully or intentionally refuse to stop or intentionally oppose a search, is of boarding and seizure of the ship allowed.
As had been indicated above and demonstrated with video images, the Israeli navy met these conditions. The organizers of the Free Gaza fleet had made known earlier that they intended to break through the Israeli sea blockade of Gaza (AFP, Greta Berlin May 27, 2010).
The leader of the IHH, Bulent Yildirim, gave several interviews in which he announced they would “resist” any Israeli attempt to search the ship.
The IHH secured the presence of some EU parliamentarians on board the Mavi Marmara, which they saw as an insurance policy in case of intervention by the Israeli navy.
One of the injured among the Free Gaza people was a Muslim activist leader from Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah:
The leader of the Northern Branch of Israel’s Muslim Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, was among the seriously wounded during the assault by Israelis against the flotilla of activists carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, Cyprus news agency reports today quoting Khalid Najjar, the Head of the Palestinian Delegation in Cyprus, as saying.
Syria has reacted to the incident with saber-rattling:
In its first official statement on the Israeli attack on the humanitarian flotilla headed for Gaza, Syria called the operation a “barbaric” move. Quoted by Lebanese press agency Nna, President Bashar al Assad and Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri harshly condemned the “crime committed by Israel with this barbaric attack on defenceless civilians”. The joint statement quoted by Nna continues that Syria and Lebanon “invite the international community to take measures as soon as possible to end Israel’s crimes, which could lead to war in the Middle East with repercussions far beyond the regional borders”.
There are street protests in Turkey:
At least 5,000 people have taken to the streets over the past few hours in Istanbul between the Israeli consulate and the centrally-located Taksim square in protest against the Israeli Navy’s attack this morning against the flotilla of ships bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip… The crowd began gathering before the Israeli consulate a few minutes after the radio and TV reported the attack on the humanitarian convoy. Many threw bottles of water and other objects at entrance to the building. Scenes of anger and protest have also been seen in Ankara in front of the residence of the Israeli ambassador to Turkey, Gaby Levi, where also this morning hundreds of people carrying Turkish and Palestinian flags shouted or prayed under the vigilant eyes of the police protecting the building.
And military co-operation between Israel and Turkey seems to be at an end, at least for the time being:
The Ankara government has today decided to cancel three joint military operations with Israel that have been scheduled for some time, following last night’s attack by Israeli marines on a six-ship convoy carrying passengers and humanitarian aid to Gaza… “The Turkish ambassador in Tel Aviv, Oguz Celikkol, has been recalled to Turkey and all military exercises due to be carried out with Israel have been cancelled. Turkey has also called for all international organisations to intervene in this situation. We want our citizens to be sent back to Turkey. We want true information from Israel that removes any doubt over the attack on the ships”.
Cruise tourism between Turkey and Israel has been suspended, and Turkey has decided to cancel a youth football match between the two countries.
The EU has reacted predictably, with its newly-minted foreign minister playing her appointed role:
The European Union has asked Israeli authorities to open an inquiry into the attack on ships bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza which resulted in a number of deaths. Reports were from EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton, who also underscored that Israeli must ensure the unrestricted flow of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Moreover, Ashton demanded that Israeli authorities respect the unobstructed transit of flotillas carrying humanitarian aid, asking for an “immediate and unconditional reopening of transit for the transport of goods and people from and to Gaza”.
Notice that Ms. Ashton is echoing the party line of the OIC, which in essence denies Israel any sovereign rights over its own territory.
Hamas is ready for a good fight:
In Gaza, Hamas has spoken out against the Israeli navy’s boarding of the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid and pro-Palestinian activists, calling it “organised state terrorism”. Hamas also called for “an intifada (revolt) before Israeli embassies throughout the world” to protest against the attack, according to Ahmad Yusef, one of the representatives of the Palestinian radical faction in Gaza. Other spokesmen from the movement called the incident “an international crime”, calling on the UN and the international community to react and set in motion an inquiry so that “the culprits be punished”… Local sources do not rule out an immediate resurgence of attacks or rocket launching at Israel. Intervention by the Arab League was called for in a public speech by the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh. Haniyeh also called on the entire Palestinian population to take to the streets to protest the Israeli operation and on the Palestinian Authority for it to halt proximity talks with Israel.
And the notorious “Palestinian street” has awoken:
Palestinian streets have today reached boiling point in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip following the Israeli attack on the “Free Gaza” flotilla, in which a number of activists were killed. In Gaza City, people waiting for the arrival of the convoy went from hope to rage. Steadily growing numbers of protesters began grouping in the centre of the city later, after the call to protest issued by the leaders of Hamas and the invitation by the head of the de facto government of Gaza, Ismail Hanyeh, to hold a “day of anger” against “Zionist crimes”… Hanyeh also put pressure on the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) of the moderate President Mahmoud Abbas to immediately withdraw from proximity talks with Israel, which have been laboriously kicked off by the United States in the last few weeks, in an attempt to revive the Middle East peace process.
The cause of all this trouble was the alleged “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. But no such crisis exists — Gaza is the most aid-glutted piece of real estate in the world:
There was no humanitarian crisis and nobody is dying with hunger in the Gaza Strip, where the real problem is the fact that control of the territory is in the hands of a terrorist organisation (Hamas), said Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak today.
I see that more ANSAmed news stories have arrived in our email since I started writing this post. But this will have to do for now…