15 die in clashes on Gaza aid ships
Israeli naval commandos have stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing a reported 15 passengers in a pre-dawn raid that sparked worldwide condemnation and a diplomatic crisis.
Israel said the forces encountered unexpected resistance as they boarded the vessels. Dozens of passengers and at least five Israeli soldiers were wounded in the confrontation in international waters.
Israel's tough response triggered widespread condemnation across Europe, where many of the passengers were from. The raid also strained already tense relations with Israel's long-time Muslim ally Turkey, the unofficial sponsor of the aid mission, and drew more attention to the plight of Gaza's people.
Following the incident, Turkey announced it was withdrawing its ambassador to Israel, cancelling three joint military drills and calling on the UN Security Council to convene in an emergency session about Israel. The Israeli ambassadors in Sweden, Spain, Denmark and Greece were summoned for meetings, and the French foreign minister called for an investigation.
The violent takeover occurred a day before Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was to meet with US President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss the Middle East peace process.
Foreign Secretary William Hague "deplored the loss of life", while French president Nicolas Sarkozy condemned "the disproportionate use of force" against the flotilla.
Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak expressed regret for the deaths but blamed the violence on organisers of the flotilla, calling the effort a "political provocation" by anti-Israel forces.
Israel's military chief, Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, said soldiers were forced by violent activists to respond with live fire.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli "aggression," declared three days of mourning across the West Bank and called on the UN Security Council and Arab League to hold emergency sessions on the incident.