Israel’s top officials worked round the clock Monday to quell worldwide censure against its pre-dawn raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in which 10 activists were killed.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cut short his visit to North America and canceled his much-anticipated meeting with US President Barack Obama to head back to Israel, while the UN Security Council convened an emergency meeting in New York.
Israeli ambassadors around the world were called by their host governments to explain the incident. The Foreign Ministry, in turn, held a briefing with all ambassadors posted here.
“It’s a big diplomatic crisis,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post
. “We are working in emergency mode.”
Turkey recalled its ambassador and canceled three joint military exercises with Israel. Greece suspended a military exercise with Israel that was in progress and postponed a visit by Israel’s air force chief.
In Jordan, Turkey, Beirut, Greece and Pakistan, protesters rallied against Israel.
In Paris, activists clashed with police near the Israeli Embassy. Many in the throng shouted, “Israel, assassin!” and “We are all Palestinians,” while youths near the front sought to break through a police line. There were angry protests in London as well.
International leaders also spoke out harshly. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “I am shocked by reports of killing of people in boats carrying supply to Gaza. I heard the ships were in international waters. That is very bad.” He called for a “thorough investigation.”
The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, called on Israel to launch an investigation into the incident. Spain, which holds the EU presidency, said Israel’s storming of the flotilla was “unacceptable.”
Netanyahu spoke by telephone with Obama, and the two leaders agreed to reschedule their meeting at the first opportunity. In a statement, the White House was notably cautious and understated.
“The president expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today’s incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals,” the statement read. “The president also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible.”
Amid the international criticism and protests, Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Ayalon all strongly reaffirmed the policy of intercepting the flotilla and firmly backed the conduct of the IDF itself.
“I fully support the IDF action,” said Netanyahu. He explained to reporters after a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Israel needed to check the cargo that the flotilla was bringing to Gaza, to ensure it contained no weapons. This had been done successfully with five ships, but the sixth had not cooperated, said Netanyahu.
People on board that ship beat, clubbed and stabbed soldiers, and there was a report of gunfire, he said.
Both Lieberman and Ayalon disputed claims that Israel had broken international law when it boarded the vessel.
“Israel is a sovereign state and cannot accept any challenge to its sovereignty,” said Lieberman. “This is not the first time Israel has stopped ships in international waters. When a ship refuses to accede to warnings and obey instructions, we have the right to board it [under] international law.”
Ayalon, who said he planned to hold discussions on Tuesday with key North American Jewish leaders and organizations, said the flotilla “was an armada of hate and violence,” and added, “It was a premeditated and outrageous provocation.”
The flotilla’s organizers had ties to global jihad, al-Qaida and Hamas, said Ayalon.
“Their intent was violent, their methods were violent and their results were unfortunately violent,” he said.
“Israel regrets the loss of life and did everything it could to avoid
this outcome,” said Ayalon, adding that Israel had offered to transport
the humanitarian cargo on board the ship to Gaza.
“The organizers on the ship did not heed the calls of our forces this
morning to peacefully follow them and bring a peaceful closure to this
event,” said Ayalon.
The successful arrival of the flotilla in Gaza would have created “a corridor of arms-smuggling,” he said.AP contributed to this report.
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