'Regret' from Israeli PM after aid ship raids
Updated on 31 May 2010
Israeli commandos have killed up to 19 people after storming a ship carrying aid to Gaza. Channel 4 News has learnt there have been further clashes elsewhere in the flotilla. James Blake reports on rising diplomatic tensions.
The six ships, carrying about 10,000 tonnes of aid and up to 700 passengers on six vessels, were warned not to pass an Israeli sea blockade.
The activists were on their way to Gaza from Cyprus on a mission designed to draw attention to a three-year-old Israeli blockade of the coastal territory. Israel imposed the restrictions after Hamas militants took power.
The Turkish Mavi Marmara ship and Free Gaza's Challenger 1 were boarded by Israeli Navy ships in international waters, off the coast of Gaza. Turkish TV pictures appear to show Israeli soldiers fighting to bring passengers under control.
Channel 4 News has learnt 16 people are feared dead following the clashes. Another unconfirmed report puts the toll at 19. It is believed 28 British citizens were on board the Turkish vessel but the Foreign Office says they are not among the dead.
Sara El Awaisi's brother Ali, who comes from Dundee in Scotland, is part of the group. She said: "We don't know if he is injured. We really don't know anything about Ali."
A spokesperson for "Freedom Flotilla" says three people are hurt on another boat, believed to be a joint Greek and Swedish vessel. The captain is reportedly among the injured.
Foreign Secretary William Hague says he "deplores" the loss of life. Mr Hague added: "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."
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he "regrets" the loss of life.
Speaking during a visit to Ottawa in Canada he said: "The sixth ship, the largest, which had hundreds of people on it, not only did not cooperate in this effort peacefully, they deliberately attacked the first soldiers who came on the ship.
"They were mobbed, they were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed, there was even a report of gunfire. And our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives, or they would have been killed.
"And regrettably in this exchange at least 10 people died. We regret this loss of life. We regret any of the violence that was there. We would like... I would like to wish speedy recovery to the wounded, including to four of our own soldiers."
Channel 4 News senior correspondent Kylie Morris writes
As ever from the Middle East, there are at least two disparate versions of what happened when Israeli commandoes forcibly boarded the international flotilla sailing apparently to break the Gaza siege.
Seven hundred civilians on board six ships - including 28 British citizens, and dramatic footage of the raid that ensued.
The latest reports put the death toll among the activists at 19 - apparently 6 of those were Turkish.
Several Israeli commandos were injured after the government said they were attacked by the campaigners.
The UN Security Council is going into emergency session and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be heading home, having called off his planned talks with the US President tomorrow.
Numerous countries have called in their Israeli ambassadors to express their anger.
One and a half million people live in the Gaza Strip. Israel says its blockade - in force since 2007 - is a necessary response to the threat posed by militants inside gaza, which is governed by Hamas.
Human rights groups say it's collective punishment, and have repeatedly urged Israel to re-open the crossings into and out of the territory. Currently it prohibits exports, and restricts the entry of basic goods, including food and fuel.
Shadow foreign secretary David Miliband condemned the "futile loss of civilian lives" and stressed the urgent need to address the humanitarian situation.
He said: "The humanitarian suffering in Gaza is completely unjustified and self defeating for all those concerned with political progress in the Middle East.
"Vital supplies must be allowed into Gaza."
On a trip to Poland, EU High Representative Baroness Cathy Ashton calls for "immediate inquiry into the Israeli raid.
She said: "During the course of this morning I have spoken to Minister Lieberman, the foreign minister of Israel. I have said there should be an immediate inquiry by Israel into the circumstances.
"I have also taken the opportunity to point out, having visited Gaza, the importance of opening the crossings for humanitarian aid to go through to ensure that ordinary people have a better existence than that which I saw."
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."
But Israeli military spokeswoman Lt. Colonel Avital Leibovitch responded: "They planned this attack. Our soldiers were injured from these knives and sharp metal objects... as well as from live fire."
Video footage shot by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) has been posted on YouTube claiming to show activists attacking soldiers with pieces of metal and hand grenades.
Two of the dead activists had fired at soldiers with pistols, the army added.
Former Labour and Respect MP George Galloway, founder of the worldwide Viva Palestina movement, is in touch with those on board the Freedom Flotilla.
He held a press conference earlier, branding Israel's actions as "terrorism".
He said: "The killing of one or two people could be put down to accident. The killing of [20 or] more people is clearly a pre-meditated act."