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Israeli forces kill civilians carrying aid shipments to Gaza

At least 10 civilians were killed, and many more injured, by Israeli commandos boarding a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza on Monday, May 31.

The Gaza Strip is under an Israeli blockade, with all its points of entry monitored and controlled by Israeli officials. The siege has stiffened following the 2007 takeover of Gaza by Hamas and the Israeli war on the Strip that killed some 1,500 people in 2008-2009.

The aid ships carried over 600 activists and 10,000 tonnes of supplies. Among the activists were some members of parliament (MPs). After leaving Turkey, the flotilla was to pick up more passengers in Cyprus, including 30 MPs from nine European countries, but traffic to and from the flotilla was denied by authorities in Cyprus.

Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Israel and has called for a session of the UN Security Council. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on a state visit to Canada at the time and was scheduled to visit the US next. He has canceled his foreign trip and returned to Israel to face the political crisis that has resulted from the deaths of so many international civilians under the Israeli Defense Force.

Greece has ended its joint war games with Israel, while ambassadors are being recalled or questioned in multiple countries, such as Sweden recalling its ambassador to Israel as protest.

Prime minister Erdogan of Turkey has responded to today’s attack, saying that “This attack made by Israel is a state terror. Actual Israeli government demonstrated that it does not want peace in the region. It should be known that we will not keep silent and unreactive facing this state terror.”

Turkey has been one of Israel’s few regional allies, though relations have become increasingly strained following the 2008-2009 war against Gaza.

Israel claims that upon boarding the ships they were attacked by activists wielding clubs and knives and fired live rounds in response, as a form of self-defence. Eight members of the military are said to be wounded.

Juan Cole writes that:

It is being alleged by members of Free Gaza that the aid ships were boarded in international waters and that Israel contravened the UN international convention on freedom of navigation on the high seas. Although the Israeli press refers to the waters off Gaza as “Israeli territorial waters,” in fact Israel has no legal claim to the Gaza coast. It is the Occupying power in Gaza since 1967, but is in severe contravention of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of occupied populations.

Thousands of people are protesting the incident around the world, outside Israeli and sometimes US consulates. On Monday, some 300 protesters in Turkey tried to storm the Israeli consulate but were repelled by security forces. The number of protesters has since grown.

Amnesty International’s response:

For nearly three years, Israel, which is the occupying power in the Gaza Strip, has implemented a policy of banning all movement of goods and people, except for the most basic humanitarian necessities, which are imported by international aid agencies. Only a fraction of patients in need of treatment outside Gaza are allowed out, and dozens have died waiting for Israeli permission to travel.

“The blockade does not target armed groups but rather punishes Gaza’s entire population by restricting the entry of food, medical supplies, educational equipment and building materials,” said Malcolm Smart.

“Unsurprisingly, its impact falls most heavily on those most vulnerable among Gaza ’s 1.5 million people: children, the elderly and the sick. The blockade constitutes collective punishment under international law and must be lifted immediately.”

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