MIDEAST: Israeli Navy Storms Humanitarian Flotilla, Kill 16

  • by Mel Frykberg (ramallah)
  • Monday, May 31, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

Chaos, confusion and outrage surround the exact circumstances under which the Free Gaza (FG) flotilla was stormed with live footage from a Turkish TV channel showing masked and heavily armed Israeli soldiers commandeering one of the six (FG) boats, the ‘Mavi Marmara’.

An Al Jazeera correspondent who was on board, reported that Israeli troops used live ammunition during the operation. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) countered that some of those on board attacked soldiers with sharp objects, including knives.

The organisers disputed this, saying the IDF opened fire as soon as they boarded the boats.

It is uncertain how the Turkish channel managed to air the live footage. Israeli authorities had scrambled the boats’ communications system shortly before the commando raid in a bid to prevent the crews from using navigational equipment and contacting the crews on the other boats.

The interference in the vessels’ communications systems was also a bid to prevent journalists on board from broadcasting live and humanitarian activists from using their mobile phones to update the media on developing events.

Earlier, IPS spoke with Huwaida Arraf, the chairwoman of the FG movement, on how the morale of the more than 700 people, including children and elderly, on board from 40 different countries, including journalists and 35 parliamentarians, was and how the trip was progressing.

'We are feeling optimistic and we are determined to reach Gaza,' Arraf told IPS. However, when IPS tried to contact her on Monday morning her phone was not working.

The FG movement, an organisation aimed at breaking Israel’s devastating siege on Gaza following the takeover of the coastal territory by Hamas in June 2007, had planned to deliver over 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to the impoverished strip.

Included in the aid on board were water purification kits, prefabricated homes, wheelchairs as well as some reconstruction material.

Thousands of homes were destroyed and damaged during Israel’s military assault on Gaza, codenamed Operation Cast Lead, at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009. As part of the siege Israel has forbidden nearly all reconstruction material from entering Gaza for rebuilding.

The FG movement has attempted numerous times over the last few years to bring boats to Gaza with some success. Most times, however, the Israeli navy intercepted the vessels, ramming several boats and arresting those on board.

However, this latest attempt has overshadowed previous ones in ambition, size and the scale of violence employed against it.

The clash at sea is the latest development in a publicity war between Israel and the FG movement which has attempted to draw international attention to the serious humanitarian conditions on the ground in Gaza.

As a violent, and possibly bloody, confrontation between the flotilla and the Israeli security forces seemed increasingly inevitable, with Israeli officials vowing to stop the vessels and the FG vowing to reach Gaza, the Israeli foreign ministry and the IDF launched a massive publicity campaign.

The Israeli daily ‘The Jerusalem Post’ reported that the IDF 'has established a joint taskforce together with the Israel police, the foreign ministry and the Prisons Service to coordinate efforts to stop the flotilla and manage the potential media fallout.'

The Israeli government’s media campaign stresses that the supplies the ships are carrying are unnecessary and that Israel — together with various international organisations — already transfers these supplies to Gaza via land crossings.

Despite Israel arguing that only items considered a 'security threat' are banned from entering Gaza, coriander, pasta, fruit juice, toilet paper, chocolate, cigarettes, seedlings, school books and uniforms remain on a long list of goods that for the most part are banned.

Furthermore, the United Nations has released recently a report contradicting the Israeli government, saying, 'Livelihoods and lives of people living in the Gaza Strip have been devastated by over 1,000 days of near complete blockade.'

The U.N. also stated on Sunday that, 'Most of the property and infrastructure damaged in Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip is still unrepaired 12 months later and aid efforts have been largely ineffective.'

The World Health Organisation released a facts sheet at the beginning of the year. 'The lack of building materials is affecting essential health facilities: the new surgical wing in Gaza’s main Shifa hospital has remained unfinished since 2006. Hospitals and primary care facilities, damaged during operation ‘Cast Lead’, have not been rebuilt because construction materials are not allowed into Gaza.'

'Israeli forces committed war crimes and other serious breaches of international law in the Gaza Strip during a 22-day military offensive which ended on Jan. 18, 2009,' says Amnesty International (AI) in its latest annual report.

'Among other things, they carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians, targeted and killed medical staff, used Palestinian civilians as 'human shields', and indiscriminately fired white phosphorus over densely populated residential areas.

'Israeli forces continued to impose severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories throughout 2009, hampering access to essential services and land. The restrictions included a military blockade of the Gaza Strip, which effectively imprisoned the 1.5 million residents and resulted in a humanitarian crisis,' added the AI report.

As news of the bloody assault on the humanitarian flotilla spreads across the West Bank and Gaza more violence seems imminent.

Clashes with Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli security forces loom as demonstrators gather in West Bank cities and towns and Gaza to vent their fury.

Meanwhile, Israel’s interception and attack on civilian vessels in international waters has raised the question of the state deliberately breaking international law.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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