Israeli commandos gun down 19 peace activists in raid on Gaza ships with 28 Britons on board

  • Soldiers fire on civilians after being attacked as they boarded ships
  • Foreign Secretary William Hague 'deplores loss of life'
  • Turkey recalls its ambassador and warns of 'consequences for Israel'
  • Nobel Laureate, Wallander author and foreign MPs on board
The Foreign Secretary today 'deplored' the loss of life during the interception of a flotilla of ships carrying aid to Gaza.
Up to 19 people were killed after Israeli commandos boarded ships carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid en route from Cyprus.
Palestinian rights group Friends of Al-Aqsa said that 28 British citizens were assisting in the breaking of the blockade, including its chairman Ismail Patel.
William Hague said the British embassy was in 'urgent contact' with the Israeli government, asking for more information.
He said: 'I deplore the loss of life during the interception of the Gaza flotilla. Our embassy is in urgent contact with the Israeli government.
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This video image from a Turkish aid group claims to show Israeli soldiers on board a military vessel in international waters off the Israeli coast, surrounding a Turkish ship

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An Israeli commando aims a gun on the deck of a Turkish ship, part of an aid flotilla heading to Gaza
'We are asking for more information and urgent access to any UK nationals involved.
'We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way because of the risks involved. But at the same time, there is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations.
'It would be important to establish the facts about this incident and especially whether enough was done to prevent death and injuries.
'This news underlines the need to lift the restrictions on access to Gaza in line with UNSCR (UN Security Council Resolution) 1860.'
Mr Hague continued: 'The closure (of access to Gaza) is unacceptable and counter-productive. There can be no better response from the international community to this tragedy than to achieve urgently a durable resolution to the Gaza crisis.
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Henning Mankell
Sheik Raed Salah, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was reportedly wounded after Israeli commandos stormed six ships off Gaza. Swedish crime author Henning Mankell was also aboard the flotilla

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Israeli medics rush an injured man for treatment at the Rambam hospital in the northern Israeli port of Haifa

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Israeli soldiers in Tel Aviv attend to a colleague injured after commandos stormed the flotilla heading to Gaza
'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.'
Mr Hague's criticism of the killings comes after several groups condemned the action taken by the Israelis.
Fears are growing for two members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), who travelled from Bristol to join the flotilla.
Sakir Yildirim, from Fishponds and Cliff Hanley, from Southville, had been raising funds for the project and were on the boats.
Nothing has been heard of them since the violence early this morning, spokesman Ed Hill revealed.
The pair flew to Turkey earlier last week and boarded the passenger ship Mavi Marmara.

Both have visited Gaza before. Mr Yildirim, originally from the Blacksea area of Turkey, drove an ambulance to the region in February last year.
Artist Mr Hanley, Secretary of the PSC in Bristol, has visited Gaza once before, in January of this year, as part of the Viva Palestina Convoy.
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One of the activist's vessels decked out in flags of Turkey and Palestine as it set sail on May 22 from Turkey towards Gaza

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A Greek ship prepares to sail from Piraeus to become one of the six ships that were planning to take aid to Gaza

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Flashpoint: The incident took place 80 miles off the coast of Gaza in international waters
While the convoy was still anchored at Cyprus on Sunday, Mr Yildirim said: 'In the past Israel has been ruthless and unlawful with boats heading for Gaza; they've threatened to fire on them, rammed or boarded them, and imprisoned everyone on board. So obviously everyone is a bit tense right now.But what's different this time is it's a really big project.

'Plus it's backed by the Turkish Government right up the Prime Minister and other Governments around the world. And we have right on our side of course! So I'm sure we'll get there safely.

He added: 'I've been lucky enough to have been to Gaza twice before. The injustice is appalling, but their steadfastness is a lesson for us all. The people there are amazing. And the welcome they give visitors is fantastic.

Mr Hanley said: 'I'd sooner be over here doing something practical to help Palestine instead of sitting at home and writing futile letters to my MP.'

Among those travelling on the flotilla of six were eight Irish citizens.
Michael Martin, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, said: 'The reports of up to 15 people killed and 50 injured, if confirmed, would constitute a totally unacceptable response by the Israeli military to what was a humanitarian mission attempting to deliver much needed supplies to the people of Gaza.'
Palestinian rights group Friends of Al-Aqsa said there has been no communication from its colleagues since the 'inexcusable attack'.
The Stop The War Coalition (STWC) said the action 'should see Israel condemned under international law'.
A Palestinian activist clutches her face in Ramallah after she was shot by Israeli soldiers during a protest against the interception of aid ships sailing to Gaza

Palestinian colleagues place the woman on to the back of a truck after she was shot by Israeli soldiers
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A video image showing an injured passenger on a Turkish ship, part of the aid convoy

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Turkish and international activists speak to a television reporter shortly before Israeli warships attacked

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Israeli soldiers stand on the deck of a small boat from the Free Gaza Movement flotilla as it is brought into Ashdod port
The boats were taking aid to an Israeli blockade set up three years ago after Hamas militants seized power there.
Greta Berlin, spokeswoman for the Free Gaza movement, which co-ordinated the flotilla said: 'It's disgusting that they have come on board and attacked civilians. We are civilians.'
Israeli military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovitch said: 'They planned this attack. Our soldiers were injured from these knives and sharp metal objects ... as well as from live fire.'
Two of the dead activists had fired at soldiers with pistols, the army claimed.
The Turkish Mavi Marmara ship, from the pro-Islamic aid group IHH, and Free Gaza's Challenger 1 are understood to have been boarded by Israeli Navy ships in international waters, 80 miles off the coast of Gaza.
Dr Fintan Lane, Fiachra O Luain and Shane Dillon, all from Ireland, were on Challenger 1 which had travelled from Cyprus in the first wave of the flotilla.
Protesters hold a banner that reads ''We support the fleet of freedom'' during a rally from the Israeli Consulate to Taksim square in Istanbul

Israeli patrol boats carrying commandos chasing a Turkish vessel carrying aid to the Gaza

Protesters burn an Israeli flag during a demonstration at Taksim Square in Istanbul
The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) said it has not been able to contact any of its members on the ships.
Dr David Landy, IPSC chairman, also accused Israel of breaching international law.
Dr Landy claimed: 'The fact that Israel would allow its forces to kill and wound international human rights activists shows the world once again that Israeli is a rogue state that acts with impunity.'
Internet footage has emerged showing pandemonium on board the Mavi Marmara, with activists in orange lifejackets running around as others tried to help a colleague lying on the deck.
A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London said today: 'We have no doubt regarding the real intention of the flotilla. It's not about humanitarian aid.
'You can see clearly from the footage that when they boarded they were attacked with knives and sharp metal objects and left with not much option but to respond.
'There was no intention whatsoever to use any of the weapons soldiers naturally carry. As soon as the soldiers boarded they were attacked by knives and life-threatening objects.
'In the first few seconds the soldiers tried to protect themselves with their hands and avoid using the guns.'
The flotilla left the coast of Cyprus yesterday afternoon. Three Israeli navy missile boats are understood to have mobilised after dark to challenge it.
The boats were carrying building materials, crayons, chocolate for children, medical supplies including a CT scanner, a complete dental surgery, and paper for schools, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said.


Two murder suspects follow Hamas commander Mahmud al-Mabhuh in Dubai in January this year
The incident poses a fresh challenge to Israeli diplomats who have scrambled over the past year to contain the fallout from other incidents, from evidence that Israel forged the passports of friendly states to accusations that it committed war crimes during a war in the Gaza Strip.
Here are some of the other diplomatic storms faced by Israel over the last year.

Britain and Australia have expelled Israeli diplomats after concluding that Israel forged British and Australian passports used by the assassins of a Hamas leader.
Israel has neither confirmed or denied a role in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas military commander who was assassinated in a Dubai hotel room in January.

Britain said such misuse of British passports was 'intolerable'. Australia said it was not the behaviour of 'a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship'.
Israeli plans for new Jewish settlement on occupied land in East Jerusalem triggered unusually harsh criticism from the United States in March when it damaged Washington's efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.
The announcement, made during a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, temporarily set back U.S. efforts to bring about indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the project was an insult. Israeli PM Benajamin Netanyahu said he was blindsided by planning bureaucrats and apologised to Biden.

Israel has sought to rebuff the conclusions of a U.N. inquiry that found it guilty of committing war crimes during a 2008-2009 offensive in the Gaza Strip.
South African jurist Richard Goldstone's report found both Israel and the Hamas movement that controls Gaza guilty of war crimes, but focused more on Israel. Israel refused to co-operate with Goldstone and described his report as distorted and biased.

More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the three-week conflict, which Israel launched with the declared aim of halting rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

Israel, widely assumed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has faced renewed calls to sign a global treaty barring the spread of atomic weapons.
Signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) last week called for a conference in 2012 to discuss banning weapons of mass destruction throughout the Middle East.

Last week's declaration was adopted by all 189 parties to the NPT, including the United States. It urged Israel to sign the NPT and put its nuclear facilities under U.N. safeguards.
Pictures of activists with sticks bludgeoning an Israeli soldier as he tried to land on a boat from a helicopter were shown by Turkish channel NTV.
Satellite news channel al-Jazeera reported from the lead Turkish ship saying Israeli forces fired and boarded, leaving its captain wounded.
Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Maguire was on board the Irish ship MV Rachel Corrie which left in the second wave of the flotilla.
Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 85, and several EU MPs are also believed to have been part of the flotilla.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the interception and said it was summoning the Israeli ambassador.
The Israeli army said four soldiers were wounded, including one hit by live fire.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in Canada, said: 'We did not want to see confrontation.
'We made repeated offers to the boats that they come to the (Israeli) port of Ashdod unload the humanitarian cargo, and we guaranteed to pass all humanitarian items through the crossings to the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, they rejected our offers and chose the path of confrontation.'
The head of the Gaza Hamas government, Ismail Haniyeh called the attack 'brutal'.
Israeli forces were on high alert on the Gaza, Syrian and Lebanese borders as well as around Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Arab-populated areas of northern Israel.
At the White House, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was still planning to meet President Barack Obama on Tuesday, a spokesman said Washington was trying to understand what happened.
Officials with Netanyahu in Canada said he had no plans to fly home early or cancel Tuesday's meeting with Obama.
Those talks had been expected to focus on U.S. efforts to move along tentative negotiations with Abbas. But peace talks, mediated by Obama's envoy, seem unlikely to go anywhere for now.
Israel's Arab enemy Syria, which hosts exiled leaders of the Hamas movement that rules Gaza, called for an emergency Arab League meeting.
The Cairo-based League condemned what it called Israel's 'terrorist act'.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called it 'inhuman'. Tehran urged the world to isolate Israel.
More worryingly for Israel, its friends also showed little sympathy. The outrage, which included U.N. condemnation of civilian deaths in international waters, sounded at times more uniformly hostile to the Jewish state than during its offensive in Gaza 18 months ago, which killed 1,400 Palestinians.
That war Israel justified by Hamas rocket fire on its towns. But it has found it harder to win understanding for the embargo which still limits supplies to 1.5 million people in Gaza, including concrete the U.N. says is need to repair bomb damage.
U.N. officials responsible for aid in Gaza said: 'Such tragedies are entirely avoidable if Israel heeds the repeated calls of the international community to end its counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza.'
The European Union called for an immediate inquiry into deaths aboard aid ships seized by Israel's navy on Monday and urged Israel to allow the free flow of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
The EU also called an emergency meeting of member states' envoys to Brussels to discuss the incident.
'High Representative Catherine Ashton expresses her deep regret at the news of loss of life and violence and extends her sympathies to families of the dead and wounded,' said a spokesperson for Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief.
'On behalf of the European Union she demands a full inquiry about the circumstances in which this happened.
The spokesperson said Ashton reiterated the EU's position regarding Gaza's closure.

'The continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counter-productive. She calls for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of the crossing for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza,' the spokesperson said.
A European Commission spokesman said separately EU ambassadors would meet later on Monday but gave no details.
The EU has a 300 million euro ($367.5 million) aid budget for the Palestinians.

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