Israel faces int'l fury over flotilla

Turkey leads condemnation efforts, recalls ambassador.

Lieberman 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Lieberman 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
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.
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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 onIsrael to launch an investigation into the incident. Spain, which holdsthe EU presidency, said Israel’s storming of the flotilla was“unacceptable.”
Netanyahu spoke by telephone with Obama, and thetwo leaders agreed to reschedule their meeting at the firstopportunity. In a statement, the White House was notably cautious andunderstated.
“The president expressed deep regret at the lossof life in today’s incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whomare being treated in Israeli hospitals,” the statement read. “Thepresident also expressed the importance of learning all the facts andcircumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible.”
Amidthe international criticism and protests, Netanyahu, Foreign MinisterAvigdor Lieberman and Ayalon all strongly reaffirmed the policy ofintercepting the flotilla and firmly backed the conduct of the IDFitself.
“I fully support the IDF action,” said Netanyahu. Heexplained to reporters after a meeting with Canadian Prime MinisterStephen Harper that Israel needed to check the cargo that the flotillawas bringing to Gaza, to ensure it contained no weapons. This had beendone 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.
“Israelis a sovereign state and cannot accept any challenge to itssovereignty,” said Lieberman. “This is not the first time Israel hasstopped ships in international waters. When a ship refuses to accede towarnings and obey instructions, we have the right to board it [under]international law.”
Ayalon, who said he planned to holddiscussions on Tuesday with key North American Jewish leaders andorganizations, 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.
“Israelregrets the loss of life and did everything it could to avoid thisoutcome,” said Ayalon, adding that Israel had offered to transport thehumanitarian cargo on board the ship to Gaza.
“The organizers onthe ship did not heed the calls of our forces this morning topeacefully 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.