Israel’s commando raid on a flotilla of pro-Palestinian “aid” ships that left nine activists dead has touched off a chain of events from the United Nations to Egypt’s border with Gaza that threaten to isolate the Jewish state from the international community.
The U.N. Security Council called early Tuesday for an “impartial” investigation of Israel’s deadly raid and condemned the “acts” that resulted in the loss of at least nine lives, a watered-down version of a resolution sought by Islamic nations leading the ferocious international condemnation of Israel.
Not far from the site of the naval raid, several thousand Gazans are making a furious rush to the Egyptian border, hoping to take advantage of a rare chance to escape the blockaded territory.
Egypt announced Tuesday it was temporarily opening its border with Gaza to allow aid into the impoverished territory, where 1.5 million Palestinians have been hemmed in by land and sea since Hamas took over in 2007. Dozens of Hamas police with automatic weapons were patrolling the border Tuesday as residents made a mad dash to escape the area.
Organizers of the flotilla, which was intercepted by Israeli commandos as it tried to run a blockade, said they were undeterred and that another cargo boat was off the coast of Italy en route to Gaza Tuesday. A second boat carrying about three dozen passengers is expected to join it, said Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla. She told the Associated Press the two boats would arrive in the region late this week or early next week.
“They’re going to have to stop the blockade of Gaza, and one of the ways to do this is for us to continue to send the boats,” she said.
The flotilla set sail from Turkey and was packed with 679 activists — many of whom were from the onetime close ally of Israel. But on Tuesday Turkey’s Prime Minister called the raid a “bloody massacre,” withdrawing its ambassador to Israel and demanding that the United States condemn the botched raid.
“Today is a turning point in history,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Nothing will be same again.”
Marathon negotiations at an emergency meeting of the Security Council produced a presidential statement weaker than was demanded by the Palestinians, Arabs and Turkey because of objections by the United States.
The Islamic nations had called for condemnation of Monday’s attack by Israeli forces on the flotilla “in the strongest terms” and “an independent international investigation.”
But the presidential statement that was finally agreed to and read at a formal council meeting instead called for “a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.” And it only condemned “those acts” that resulted in deaths, without naming Israel.
The long and difficult negotiations were conducted primarily by the United States with Turkey and Lebanon, which are both non-permanent council members.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose country drafted the initial presidential statement, called the Israeli raid “banditry and piracy” on the high seas and “murder conducted by a state.”
Palestinian U.N. observer Riyad Mansour called it a “war crime,” and told an open Security Council meeting that “those fleets, one after the other, will be coming until the unethical blockade is put to an end and the suffering stops for our people.”
While the Palestinians and Turks insisted that the activists on the ships were delivering aid to impoverished Gazans suffering under a three-year Israeli embargo, Israel’s deputy U.N. ambassador Daniel Carmon said “this flotilla was anything but a humanitarian mission.”
Some activists have “terrorist history” and its organizers support radical Islamic groups such as Hamas, which controls Gaza and refuses to recognize Israel’s existence, he said.
Carmon defended the legality of Israel’s blockade and the boarding of the ships — which refused repeated calls to send their cargo to Gaza through Israel — as “a preventive measure.” He called the results “tragic and unfortunate.”
The U.N.’s presidential statement also “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries” and requests the immediate release of the ships and civilians being held by Israel. It urges Israel to permit consular access and allow countries to retrieve their dead and wounded immediately.
The council also urged Israel “to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the convoy to its destination” and stressed that the situation in Gaza “is not sustainable.”
Council members reiterated “their grave concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza and stress the need for sustained and regular flow of goods and people to Gaza as well as unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance through Gaza.”
Mansour said this was “the clearest statement by the Security Council on lifting the siege against the Gaza Strip.”
The flotilla was the ninth attempt by sea to breach the blockade Israel and Egypt imposed after Hamas violently seized the territory. Israel allowed five seaborne aid shipments through but snapped the blockade shut after its 2009 war in Gaza.
There was little call in Israel for an end to the blockade. Israelis have little sympathy for Gaza, which sent thousands of rockets and mortar rounds crashing into Israel for years before last year’s war.
Tensions along the Israeli-Gaza border were tense following the naval raid.
The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad said three of its fighters were killed Tuesday shortly after firing rockets into southern Israel. Israeli authorities say the rockets landed in open areas and caused no injuries.
The Israeli military confirmed its airstrike, and Gaza’s chief medical examiner also said there were three deaths.
On Tuesday morning, the Israeli military said Gaza militants infiltrated Israel and exchanged fire with troops. Israeli rescue services said two militants were killed, but the military would not immediately confirm that.