CAIRO: The Arab League held an emergency meeting Tuesday on the level of permanent delegates to discuss the Arab stance towards the Israeli raid on an aid flotilla headed for Gaza.
Ambassadors of the 22 member states in Cairo, plus Turkey, also prepared for the meeting of Arab foreign ministers scheduled to take place Wednesday evening.
Though not a member state, Turkey was invited by the Arab League — as a show of appreciation towards its firm stance against the attack — to join the meeting of permanent delegates and was represented by its ambassador in Cairo.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said, “This meeting represents a turning point in history as Turkey participates in the Arab League meetings.”
Moussa addressed Turkish Ambassador to Egypt Huseyin Avni Botsali, saying, “You are our partner in standing against the barbarity practiced by Israeli forces.”
Israeli navy commandos attacked in a pre-dawn raid Monday a flotilla of ships carrying 10,000 tons of aid for the besieged people of Gaza. At least 10 activists were killed and others injured. The convoy included human rights activists, MPs, artists and journalists.
The attack took place in international waters, about 65 km off the coast of Gaza, in a breach of international laws, sparking global outrage against Israel and triggering a diplomatic firestorm.
Turkey, believed to have the most casualties, took the harshest stance against Israel by withdrawing its ambassador and canceling three joint military drills.
During the Arab League meeting, Botsali read a statement from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which described the Israeli raid as "banditry and piracy" on the high seas and "murder conducted by a state.” The attack, he said, left Israel “with blood on its hands.”
Botsali said, “The bloody attack in the Mediterranean creates a problem beyond two countries, for the whole world. Every country that attaches priorities to human values can not remain indifferent.”
The UN Security Council called early Tuesday for an "impartial" investigation of Israel’s deadly commando raid and condemned the "acts" that resulted in the loss of at least nine lives.
"We have every confidence that Israel can conduct a credible and impartial and transparent, prompt, investigation internally," Alejandro Wolff, the deputy permanent US representative, said.
The statement was weaker than what was initially demanded by Arabs and Turkey.
“The UN Security Council’s statement should have been stronger and clearer; it should have stressed that this [Israeli raid] is unacceptable and can never happen again.” Moussa said in a press conference following the meeting.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the global criticism and offered his full backing to Israeli commandos, insisting that they acted to "defend their lives."
Netanyahu told top security officials that Israel must prevent Hamas rulers from rearming.
"In Gaza, there is a terrorist state under Iranian sponsorship," he said. "Opening a sea route to Gaza would present a grave danger to our citizens. Therefore we are maintaining our policy of a naval blockade."
Ambassadors at the meeting said Israel’s actions would jeopardize the already fragile Middle East peace process.
Botsali quoted Erdogan in the meeting, saying the peace process was dealt a serious blow, describing Israel as "a festering boil in the Middle East that spreads hate and enmity, dynamites [sic] regional peace and spreads instability."
Kuwaiti MPs condemned Israel as a criminal state and called on government to withdraw from the Arab Peace Initiative. In turn, the Kuwaiti Parliament approved a non-binding recommendation by 32 votes to six, urging its government to withdraw from the initiative, which offers Israel full normalization of ties in exchange for complete withdrawal from occupied Arab land.
President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning over the “massacre,” but said that he would continue with indirect peace negotiations with Israel.
“The Palestinian Authority believes that since the negotiations are indirect through the United States and not Israel, then there’s no need to halt negotiations.” Moussa said.
Participants at the meeting agreed that “the era of condemning and deploring is over, this is the time for action.” However, they stopped short of specifying what these actions would entail.
Moussa said that an official Arab League resolution will not be announced until after Wednesday’s meeting of Arab foreign ministers.
“The whole world agrees that the siege on Gaza is unacceptable and must be lifted,” Moussa said, “you can’t starve people and then expect [the world’s political] powers to just stand by and watch.”
Somali ambassador, Abdallah Hussein Mahmoud, head of the Arab League session, said during the opening session, “Israel’s barbaric massacre and brutal extermination of the freedom flotilla is unjustified and cannot be easily ignored.”
He added, “Israel must release all the detained activists from the freedom flotilla, deliver the equipment, food and medical aid that was confiscated to its rightful owners in Gaza and compensate for the lives of those killed in the raid.”