Friday 23 March 2018

Israel isolated as international fury greets massacre on the high seas

Jeffrey Heller and Alastair Macdonald

European nations, as well as the United Nations and Turkey, voiced shock and outrage at the bloody end to the international campaigners' bid to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Boarding from dinghies and rappelling from helicopters, naval commandos stopped six ships, 700 people and 10,000 tonnes of supplies from reaching the Palestinian enclave.

In the process they killed at least 10 peace activists -- a bloody miscalculation which has left Israel isolated and condemned.

Once-close Muslim ally Turkey accused it of "terrorism" in international waters. The UN Security Council met in emergency session. The European Union, a key aid donor to Palestinians, demanded an independent inquiry and an end to the Gaza embargo.

Israel's most powerful friend, the United States, was more cautious. But President Barack Obama said he wanted the full facts soon and that he regretted the loss of life.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced regret as he cut short a visit to Canada and rang Mr Obama to call off a White House meeting that had been planned for Tuesday.

He said his forces had been attacked: "They were mobbed, they were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed, there was even a report of gunfire. And our soldiers had to defend themselves."

For all his regret, he vowed to maintain a three-year-old embargo to stop Hamas from bringing arms to Gaza.

Back home in Israel, however, questions were asked about how an operation that aimed to avoid bloodshed had gone so badly and publicly wrong.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said: "What Israel has committed was a massacre."

The bloodshed sparked street protests and government ire in Turkey, long Israel's lone Muslim ally in the region.

Prime minister Tayyip Erdogan said: "This action, totally contrary to the principles of international law, is inhumane state terrorism."

Ankara also cancelled joint military exercises and recalled its ambassador.

Demonstrations in European cities included London, Paris, Stockholm, Rome and Athens.

Hundreds of people in Paris clashed with police near the Israeli Embassy.

Protesters threw stones at police as they charged toward the embassy near the Champs-Elysees and the French presidential palace.


In the Middle-East The Arab League condemned what it called a "terrorist act".

More worryingly for Israel, its diplomatic friends showed little sympathy.

The outrage sounded at times more uniformly hostile to the Jewish state than during its offensive in Gaza, which killed 1,400 Palestinians in December 2008 and January 2009.

A senior UN official responsible for the aid on which Gaza depends said: "Such tragedies are entirely avoidable if Israel heeds the repeated calls of the international community to end its counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza."

Irish Independent

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