At least a dozen people were killed and many more wounded early Monday morning when Israeli soldiers sent to board six blockade-busting international "aid" ships approaching the Gaza Strip were met with violent resistance.
The aid ships set off from Turkey at the weekend, insisting that their cargo was desperately needed by the residents of Gaza, despite the fact that Gaza receiving many times more humanitarian aid each week via Israel. The ships were also carrying many items Israel is trying to keep out of Gaza because they have been used in the past by Hamas to built rockets and bunkers.
The flotilla's organizers originally said that they would not use violence if confronted by the Israeli navy.
But an Israeli army spokesman said that the first soldier over the side of the main flotilla ship after it ignored radio calls to halt was immediately stabbed in the chest. The spokesman said that in addition to many activists wielding knives and metal bars, at least two were armed with guns, forcing the Israeli troops to use deadly force to seize control of the ship.
In addition to the dozen or so fatalities among the activists, some 50 were wounded and transferred to Israeli hospitals for treatment. At least 10 Israeli soldiers were also wounded, two seriously.
"This was not a peace missions, it was an act of terror," said IDF spokesman Col. Avi Beneihen.
In an address to the press later in the morning, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called the incident a "premeditated and outrageous provocation." He said Israeli troops had found many weapons prepared beforehand for use against Israeli forces aboard the ships. "It was an ambush for Israeli soldiers."
Ayalon said the presence of weapons aboard the ships only further demonstrated that the flotilla's purpose was not humanitarian.
For weeks leading up to the launch of the flotilla, Israel told its organizers in the Free Gaza Movement that many tons of humanitarian aid were entering Gaza every day, and that Israel would gladly add the permitted goods they had collected to the aid truck convoys.
But Ayalon said Israel was repeatedly informed that the Free Gaza Movement first and foremost intended to break the Israeli maritime blockade on Gaza and its Hamas rulers.
As many of the activists aboard the ships were Turkish, the Turkish government issued a very harsh condemnation of the Israeli action. The Turkish military's chief of staff rushed home from a visit to Cairo to discuss his nation's response.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called for an emergency session of the Arab League to consider a strong regional reaction against Israel.
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