UN calls for independent inquiry into flotilla attack
Published 01/06/2010 | 12:19
The UN Security Council has called for a prompt and impartial investigation into the Israeli attack against a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, and the immediate release of all civilians.
The statement, which came at the end of an emergency session that lasted more than 12 hours, condemned "those acts which resulted in the loss of at least 10 civilians and many wounded."
"The Security Council took note of the statement of the UN Secretary General on the need to have a full investigation into the matter and it calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards," the statement said.
The Security Council requested the immediate release of all ships and civilians held by Israel.
In the statement, which was the result of a compromise between Turkey and the US, Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller, said that the council reiterated its grave concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which it said was "not sustainable."
The statement came as Israel expelled 48 activists seized on the six ships but said it would would continue to detain 487 others.
One, who identified himself as American but did not give his name, told reporters as he was being led away that he was "not violent".
"What I can tell you is that there are bruises all over my body," he said. "They won't let me show them to you."
Ron Prosor, Israel's Ambassador to Britain, said the storming of the aid flotilla had not been a success.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that Israel was in a "war situation" with terrorists in Gaza and had been trying to protect itself.
"It's fair to say that this operation wasn't very successful and the loss of life was tragic and I'm not just saying that," he said.
"But let's not mix that with the fact that the people on board the ships behaved appallingly."
He said "nothing happened" on five of the six ships. But people on the sixth ship had confronted soldiers with "knives with huge blades", iron bars and metal pipes.
They had been warned "repeatedly" to stop the ship before troops boarded but "it was clear what their intent was", he said.
Israel has been strongly condemned by the international community for the deadly raid.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British ambassador to the UN, said there had been "immediate international rage" following the "unnecessary loss of life".
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that Israel had to make sure weapons were not getting into Gaza "so some kind of defence is necessary but this was clearly not very well handled".
Sir Jeremy added: "It's past time by some years for serious international action to end the blockade and the virtual starvation of Gaza."
Israel has claimed that its troops only opened fire after being set upon by activists wielding iron bars, but the Free Gaza Movement, which organised the convoy, and the Turkish group IHH, which made up most of the activists on board, said the shooting was unprovoked.
An exact death toll is still unclear, with Israeli authorities now saying nine were killed, while activist groups said 19 were unaccounted for. Most were believed to be Turkish.
Turkey led calls for an independent inquiry and a lifting of the Israeli blockade on Gaza.
The Palestinian representative, Riyad Mansour, said the raid was an attack on unarmed civilians in international waters and a "war crime".
Protests were staged in cities around the world on Monday afternoon, but outrage at the incident was strongest in Turkey, historically Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world.
Its foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, called the raid "banditry and piracy" on the high seas and "murder conducted by a state."
A Turkish draft resolution was circulated at the security council calling for the attack to be condemned in the strongest terms as a violation of international law.
However, there was one significant step back from the crisis.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said peace talks with Israel would continue despite the near-universal condemnation of the raid.
Mr Abbas met advisers on Monday night, but said there was no need to quit the talks, which only restarted earlier this month. This was because the talks were being conducted through an American envoy, George Mitchell, and not directly, an adviser told the Associated Press afterwards.
Mr Abbas's decision will infuriate Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza strip since driving out Mr Abbas's Fatah movement by force in 2007, when the blockade was imposed. It will make reconciliation between the two divided halves of the Palestinian territories even more difficult.
But it is likely to be seized on by the United States, which will be once again attempting to balance its growing frustration at the inflexibility of the government of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and its role as Israel's most important and sometimes only significant defender.
Its UN deputy ambassador, Alejandro Wolff, was notably restrained in his response. He made no mention of support for an international investigation, suggesting an internal inquiry by Israel would suffice.
The Americans have not directly condemned the violence.
"We expect a credible and transparent investigation and strongly urge the Israeli government to investigate the incident fully," Mr Wolff said.
The British All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues has condemned the raid, saying that it had caused "indescribable pain" to the families of those killed and "provoked anger around the world".
The three MPs co-chairing the group - Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes, Labour's John McDonnell, and Conservative Gary Streeter - released a statement urging all sides to renounce violence.
They said: "As long as this long-running dispute remains unresolved, we fear that many more lives will be lost on all sides, resulting in even more pain and further deepening the hatred and distrust between all those involved.