CAIRO: Shock and outrage swept the globe Monday after Israeli commandos stormed a flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza, as the Jewish state’s foes and allies closed ranks in condemning the deadly raid.
Up to 19 people aboard a flotilla of ships carrying aid destined for the Gaza Strip were killed Monday, when Israeli navy commandos stormed the vessels in international waters.
The incident prompted a wave of international condemnation, as Israel said it was forced to board the ships to uphold a blockade of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.
"The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy," White House spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence, saying, "I am shocked by reports of killing of people in boats carrying supply to Gaza. I heard the ships were in international water. That is very bad." He called for a "thorough investigation."
In Europe, condemnation was swift.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on Monday demanded Israeli authorities mount a "full inquiry" into the incident.
The EU’s high representative also reiterated a longstanding demand for "an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of the crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza," a spokesman underlined.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa called on Monday for an emergency meeting to discuss what the body that groups 22 Arab states described as Israel’s "terrorist act" against a Gaza-bound international aid ships.
"The Arab League’s Secretary General has called for an urgent meeting at the level of representatives to look into this heinous crime committed by Israeli forces against unarmed civilians that left scores of dead and wounded.
"The Arab League strongly condemns this terrorist act."
The African Union said it was "deeply shocked" by the deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound maritime aid convoy and demanded an investigation.
"The AU commission is deeply shocked by the bloody boarding operation carried out by the Israeli security forces against a humanitarian mission destined for Palestine, causing a large number of deaths and injuries," said a statement received in French.
Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair expressed his "deep regret and shock" Monday at the loss and urged a full investigation.
"I express deep regret and shock at the tragic loss of life," said Blair, the official Middle East envoy for the international quartet — the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia.
"There obviously has to be a full investigation into what has happened."
Amnesty International called for an independent investigation into a deadly Israeli raid on an aid convoy to Gaza, accusing the Jewish state of using "excessive force".
Amnesty called for an "immediate, credible and independent investigation" into the raid.
"The blockade constitutes collective punishment under international law and must be lifted immediately," said Malcolm Smart, the rights organization’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The Vatican voiced "deep sadness" at the Israeli raid.
The Holy See feels "deep sadness and concern" over the pre-dawn storming of the aid flotilla by Israeli naval forces in which up to 19 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told AFP.
He added: "As everyone knows, the Holy See always opposes the use of violence, whoever commits it, because it makes the search for peaceful solutions more difficult."
Spain and France condemned what they called the disproportionate use of force.
Germany said "at first glance" Israel’s raid on ships carrying Palestinian activists and aid to the Gaza Strip did not appear "proportionate," in an unusually strong statement for Berlin.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said "Every German government has always recognized and supported the right of Israel to defend itself, but this right must of course be within the boundaries of proportionality."
Greece suspended a military exercise with Israel and postponed a visit by Israel’s air force chief.
Greece, Sweden, Spain, Ireland, Denmark, Austria, Belgium summoned Israel’s ambassadors demanding explanations for the violence.
Russia’s foreign ministry condemned the "crude violation" of international law and called for full clarification of the incident.
"Clarification of all the facts of what has happened is necessary," it said, adding: "It is clear that using arms against civilians and detaining ships in the open sea without any legal basis is a crude violation of international law."
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin condemned Israel’s raid as a "totally unacceptable response".
"I am gravely concerned at the reports emerging of the storming of a Turkish ship this morning by Israeli commandos," Martin said.
Ireland was trying to confirm the safety of eight Irish nationals and one Irish-Turkish national who were on board vessels in the flotilla, which is carrying pro-Palestinian activists to deliver supplies to Gaza, Martin said.
Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen said "It is a Danish priority that the Gaza Strip is immediately opened to receive humanitarian aid, reconstruction material and the circulation of people,"
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini "deplored" the loss of civilian life.
Austria’s foreign ministry was quoted as saying "I am dismayed by the bloody escalation of events on board the main ship of the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ for Gaza," Spindelegger was quoted as saying.
"Such bloodshed is shocking and I expect a prompt and comprehensive clarification," he added.
Spindelegger also called on the Israeli government to show restraint and prevent further violence.
"Israel must end the counter-productive blockade policy towards the Gaza Strip, as the UN Security Council in New York and the European Union have emphatically and repeatedly demanded," he noted.
Israel’s deadly attack on a Gaza bound aid flotilla was "inexcusable", South Africa’s Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu said on Monday on behalf of The Elders.
"The Elders described Israel’s attack on the aid shipment and the resulting killings and injuries as completely inexcusable," Tutu said, seated alongside former United States president Jimmy Carter and Irish leader Mary Robinson.
The Elders is a group of retired leaders founded in 2007 by South African icon Nelson Mandela.
"They called for a full investigation of last night’s incident and urged the UN Security Council to debate the situation with a view to mandating action to end the closure of the Gaza Strip," Tutu told a press briefing.
The Gulf Cooperation Countries condemned Israel’s "heinous crime" on the Gaza ships, which it said was "pre-planned" by the Israeli government.
But the strongest reaction came from Turkey. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc called Israel’s actions "piracy" and said Turkey is withdrawing its ambassador on Monday as well as canceling three joint military drills and calling on the UN Security Council to convene in an emergency session about Israel.
Turkey is currently a member of the council.
"I strongly condemn the use of force by Israeli military forces on an aid convoy composed of 32 countries, including Turkey," Arinc said.
"This attack must not remain unanswered." He also said a Turkish youth soccer team currently in Israel would be brought home.
The raid also brought heightened attention to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed after the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized control of the tiny Mediterranean territory in 2007.
The blockade — along with Israel’s fierce offensive against Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009 to stop Hamas rocket fire — has fueled anti-Israeli sentiment around the Arab world.
The Islamist Hamas which runs the Gaza Strip urged fellow Muslims to "rise up" in protest in front of Israeli embassies the world over, as Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared three days of mourning over the "massacre."
Kuwait’s parliament speaker condemned the raid on the flotilla, which was carrying 16 Kuwaitis including an MP, as a "heinous Israeli crime," as the cabinet prepared for an emergency meeting.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the incident was an "inhuman" act that brought Tehran’s arch-foe "closer than ever to its end."
"The inhuman action of the Zionist regime against the Palestinian people and preventing the humanitarian aid from reaching Gazans does not show this regime’s strength, but is a sign of its weakness, and all this brings this sinister and fake regime closer than ever to its end," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday condemned Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid convoy, warning it could drag the region into war.
"Syria and Lebanon denounce in the strongest terms the heinous crime committed at dawn by Israel," the state SANA news agency reported quoting an official statement after the pair held talks.
"The crimes committed by Israel and its flagrant violations for the most basic human rights and for international laws threaten to pull the Middle East into a war whose consequences will not be limited to the region," they said, according to SANA.