May 31, 2010
Gaza flotilla attack: world unites in condemnation of Israel's actions, Ian Traynor and Dorian Jones in Istanbul The Guardian, Tuesday 1 June 2010
Gaza flotilla attack: world unites in condemnation of Israel's actions
Key strategic relationship with Turkey damaged and Netanyahu visit to White House cancelled
Brussels protest at Israeli flotilla attack
In a scene echoed around the world, a woman flashes a victory sign during a protest outside the Belgian foreign affairs building in Brussels. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters
Israel's calculated gamble in sending commandos to raid the Mediterranean flotilla looked likely last night to exact a high price, leaving it increasingly isolated internationally and diplomatically and losing the vital public relations war in the Middle East.
The first and biggest casualty of what appeared to many as a rash act of night time derring-do was Israel's relationship with what used to be its key strategic, regional and Muslim ally, Turkey.
Anger erupted on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, with Israeli flags burned and the Netanyahu government advising Israelis to stay away from Turkey. Thousands took to the streets and marched on the Israeli consulate.
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, described the Israeli raid as "an act of inhumane state terrorism", while the foreign ministry spoke of "an act of piracy" and of "irreparable damage" to relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv.
Three of the six ships flew the Turkish flag, the convoy was organised by a Turkish charity, and several hundred of those on board the ships were Turks. "We had a very good relationship with Israel, but we have had all kind of difficulties in the past," said a senior diplomat in Ankara, Selim Yenel. "This tops them all."
Protesters scaled the high fences protecting the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, only to be repelled by security forces.
"I cried all night. What Israel did was murder and terrorism," said Mehmet Tas, a computer software student. "Turkey and Europe should unite and attack Israel."
The fury on the streets was mirrored by high-level rage. Ankara recalled its ambassador from Israel. Erdogan rushed home from a trip to Latin America to deal with the fallout. Observers predicted a possible breach in diplomatic relations.
"Israel has targeted innocent civilians," said the foreign ministry in Ankara. "It has shown yet again that it does not care about human lives or peace initiatives."
Noting that the dawn raid occurred in international waters, Ankara hinted at demanding legal redress.
The Turks convened an emergency meeting of generals and security ministers and called off military exercises with Israel, as did Greece.
The United Nations security council was expected to meet last night in New York over the incident.
"I heard the ships were in international water. That is very bad," said Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general.
The Obama administration, while regretting the death toll, reserved judgment on apportioning blame.
"The United States is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy," said White House spokesman William Burton.
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, cancelled plans to visit Obama at the White House today.
Amid a flurry of diplomatic activity, Israeli ambassadors were summoned in Stockholm, Madrid, and Athens, while Spain, holding the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, called a session of the EU's political and security committee.
Foreign governments deplored the loss of life and voiced outrage at the Israeli conduct. But amid a propaganda war between the Israeli government press machine and pro-Palestinian lobbies over who started the fight and whether any of the activists on board were armed, they were also wary of going further than verbal condemnation.
The common response in Europe was to condemn what was seen as Israel's disproportionate use of force. Even Germany, generally reluctant to criticize Israel because of the Holocaust, voiced horror at what Palestinian leaders dubbed a massacre.
"The German government is shocked by events in the international waters by Gaza," said a German government spokesman, adding that Israeli actions should observe the fundamental principle of proportionality. "A first glance suggests this basic principle was not adhered to."
Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign and security policy chief, said: "I have spoken to Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman to express our deepest concern about the tragedy that has happened. I said there should be an immediate inquiry by Israel into the circumstances."
Her demand for an Israeli inquiry was echoed by European governments, but at odds with several other calls for an independent international investigation.
Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, told Liberman that any investigation should be "comprehensive, transparent, and neutral".
While Israel generally prevents foreign politicians entering the Gaza Strip, Ashton was allowed in during her first trip to the Middle East in March. She called yesterday for a partial lifting of the blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt.
"I have also taken the opportunity to point out the importance of opening the crossings for humanitarian aid to go through, to ensure that ordinary people have a better existence than that which I saw."
William Hague, the foreign secretary, said that the three-year Israeli siege of Gaza should be relaxed. "I call on the government of Israel to open the crossings to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza, and address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians."
The Russian government meanwhile expressed its deep anxiety over the incident. It described the assault by Israeli commandos as a gross violation of international law and called for a thorough investigation.
"Use of weapons against civilians and detaining ships in the open sea without any legal reason constitute obvious and gross violations of generally accepted legal standards," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement. It called for the "earliest possible lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza".
Tony Blair, envoy in the Middle East for the UN, US, EU, and Russia quartet, said: "We need a different and better way of helping the people of Gaza and avoiding the hardship and tragedy that is inherent in the present situation."
All the evidence suggests that Israel is calculating that it can brazen out the chorus of criticism and limit the substantive damage to its relations with Turkey.
at May 31, 2010
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