At least 19 people are dead and dozens more injured after Israeli troops attacked a convoy of ships in international waters bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza, Al Jazeera is reporting. The flotilla was attacked 65 km off the Gaza coast as it aimed to break Israel’s siege on Gaza. The flotilla left Cyprus on Sunday to reach Gaza by Monday morning, but Israel claimed the boats were engaged in an “act of provocation” against the Israeli military instead of providing aid, and that it issued warrants to prohibit their entrance, noting that the flotilla would be breaking international law by landing there. Organizers, mostly pro-Palestinian advocates from the UK, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey, rejected this claim. Israeli military spokesperson Avital Leibovich said: “This happened in waters outside of Israeli territory, but we have the right to defend ourselves.” Al Jazeera’s correspondent said a white surrender flag was coming from the ship and there was no live fire coming from the passengers.
UPDATE: The BBC is now reporting “at least” nine people are dead after armed Israeli forces boarded an aid vessel carrying 500 people overnight some 40 miles out to sea. Israel says its soldiers were attacked with axes, knives, bars and guns when they boarded the ship, with government spokesperson Mark Regev saying the activists onboard “were dead-set on confrontation.” “”Live fire was used against our forces,” Regev said. “They initiated the violence, that’s 100% clear.” The aid convoy’s organizers, however, say the attack by Israeli soldiers was unprovoked. “We heard some of them shouting ‘we are raising the white flag, stop shooting at us’,” said Arafat Shoukri of the Free Gaza Movement, who was on the phone with those onboard.
The incident was met with protests around the world, including a strongly worded condemnation from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called Israel’s actions “inhumane state terrorism.” Most of the nine dead are believed to have been from Turkey. Meanwhile, Greece, Egypt, Sweden, Spain and Denmark summoned Israel’s ambassadors demanding explanations for the violence, while Spain and France condemned what they called the disproportionate use of force. The UN Security Council is meeting to discuss the violence, with one Western diplomat suggesting council members may adopt a statement voicing their shock at the incident and possibly backing UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s call for an investigation.