Saturday

4th Feb 2023

EU calls for 'full investigation' into Israeli attacks on aid convoy

  • The humanitarian ship under attack was flying a Turkish flag (Photo: Tolga "Musato")

The EU on Monday asked Israel for a full investigation after its troops killed at least ten people and injured dozens on board a Turkish vessel, part of an international humanitarian flotilla trying to pass through a maritime embargo on the Gaza Strip.

"I have spoken to minister Lieberman, the foreign minister of Israel. I expressed our deepest concern about the tragedy that has happened. I have said there should be an immediate inquiry by Israel into the circumstances," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said during a press conference in Warsaw where she was meeting the Polish foreign minister.

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Earlier that day, at least ten people were killed on a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid as Israeli troops opened fire on the flotilla. The Jewish state claims its forces were attacked with sticks and iron beams. The ship, together with five others, were part of the "Free Gaza Movement", which has already staged similar attempts in the past two years and managed last October to deliver aid to Palestinians.

Israel says that the boats were financed by anti-Israel organisations and that the it found weapons on board the ship destined for Palestinian extremists. Deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon regretted the deaths, but accused the convoy of a "premeditated and outrageous provocation", describing the flotilla as an "armada of hate."

Israel and Egypt have been blocking access to Gaza since June 2007, when a dispute between Fatah and Hamas, the two rival Palestinian factions, the latter of which has fired rockets at Israel, divided the two occupied territories. The Israeli government allows some humanitarian aid to access Gaza, but the United Nations estimate that this represents less than a quarter than what is required.

"I have also taken the opportunity to point out that having visited Gaza, the importance of opening the crossing for humanitarian aid to go through to ensure that ordinary people have a better existence than that which I saw," Ms Ashton added.

But Ms Ashton's stance was deemed too soft by MEPs who have just this weekend returned from Gaza, calling for the international community to "force" Israel to lift the blockade, now that it has claimed the lives of international activists.

"It's good Ms Ashton said she wants an inquiry committee, but this has to be international and total independent," Belgian Liberal MEP Louis Michel said during a press conference. A former EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Mr Michel spoke of "double standard games" played by member states when dealing with Israel, in comparison to other countries violating international law.

"I remember from my previous experience how difficult it was just to call the EU-Israel association council – a rather ordinary procedure. Maybe if we obtain that, we could move some things," Mr Michel said, in reference to previous calls by MEPs to suspend talks on an EU-Israel association agreement following the Jewish state's attack on Gaza in December 2008 that claimed the lives of at least 1,400 Palestinians.

"Nobody expected a humanitarian flotilla to be attacked by the military of a country claiming to be democratic," Irish Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa said at the same press briefing, noting that Israel last week was accepted as a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a club of world's richest democracies.

It is now up to the member states to press Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, which is only fuelling more hatred and made Hamas seem a "credible alternative" since the international community was impotent in helping the Palestinians out of poverty and war, added Belgian Social-Democratic MEP Veronique de Keyser.

Member states' ambassadors in charge of security and defence matters were still debating early Monday evening what steps to pursue in response to the Israel attacks.

Several countries, including the UK, Ireland and Belgium, summoned the Israeli ambassador to their capital, while Greece cancelled its participation in a military exercise with Tel Aviv.

Israel's regional isolation is likely to increase after Turkey, reacting to the fact that most of the victims on ship Turkish ship are believed to be Turkish citizens, has withdrawn its ambassador from Israel and also cancelled joint military exercises. Thousands of angry protesters burned Israeli flags in Istanbul on Monday.

Russia Today news channel posted video footage showing Israeli troops storming the Turkish ship on Monday morning.

The Israeli government on Tuesday replied by publishing videos showing its soldiers being attacked with rods and thrown over board.

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