Turkey reacts strongly against Israeli intervention of aid flotilla

08:57, June 01, 2010      

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Turkish leaders and citizens alike reacted strongly on Monday to Israel's violently interception of a Turkish-led aid flotilla bringing supplies to the blockaded Gaza.

An early morning raid by Israeli commandos resulted in 19 deaths according to Israeli TV, though Israeli officials have put death toll at nine.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking from Chile where he was conducting an official visit, said "It should be known we will not remain silent and inactive before Israel's inhuman state terror." He added that Turkey remained committed to peace no matter how committed Israel remained to violent attacks.

Erdogan has cancelled the rest of his South American visit and will be flying back to Turkey in the evening.

President Abdullah Gul also condemned the raid and offered condolences to the families of those killed on the vessel.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a written statement early in the morning strongly condemning Israel, saying "this serious infringement on international law may seriously damage bilateral relations." The ministry has summoned Israeli ambassador in Turkey for an urgent explanation of the issue, according to a ministry statement.

Later, both the Israeli Ambassador to Ankara and the Turkish Ambassador to Tel Aviv were recalled.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the government "cursed" Israel for its actions and said the action done on international waters "amounted to piracy." Arinc announced the cancellation of three upcoming joint military exercises with Israel.

Meanwhile Turkey, a non-permanent member of the United Nations' Security Council, called for an extraordinary meeting which will be held at 13:00 New York local time. Similarly, NATO will hold an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday upon Turkey's request.

Israel claims the violence was an act of self defense, Spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister's office Ofier Gendelman told private channel NTV that some of the passengers were armed with weapons, including two Australians with pistols, as well as many who wielded pipes and knives against the Israeli security forces. Gendelman defended raid on the humanitarian relief vessels, saying ignoring the Israeli blockade was disregard of its national sovereignty, that any nation would have done the same, and that Israel had acted according to international law.

Israel raided the flagship of the six-ship flotilla, the Mavi Marmara (Blue Marmara), 70 nautical miles off its coast, past sovereign waters.

But the strongest reaction came from the Turkish public, where thousands showed up in Taksim square to stage a protest against Israel.

Seven thousand people, mostly religious citizens and members of the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation which organized the flotilla, held Palestinian and Turkish flags and Islamic banners. Many chanted pro-Islamic and anti-Israeli slogans and calling for Turkish military intervention in Gaza.

Vendors set up stands selling Palestinian and Islamic banners and headbands condemning Israel amongst the protesters.

The city center is filled with Palestinian and Turkish flags, showing wide support of the Turkish people on the special occasion.

Later, hundreds of members of left-wing groups such as the Turkish Communist Party also joined in support against Israel.

Public protests have been taking place all day, and started in front of the Israeli consulate in central Levent district hours before Israel's intervention on the ships.

Hundreds first gathered in front of the Israeli consulate to protest the Israeli intervention.

Protesters began spontaneously gathering in front of the consulate in Istanbul's central Levent district early Monday morning soon after midnight local time.

The predominantly religious crowd numbering nearly 2,000 spilled into the street interfering with traffic on one of Istanbul's busiest streets, and shouted anti-Israel slogans and held up Palestinian flags and Islamic banners.

Around 4:30 am, tension rose even more when news of Israel's violent intervention against the 6-ship relief flotilla reached the protesters.

Hearing two on-board had been killed, several people jumped the barrier around the building and attacked the building, breaking windows and causing property damage.

Police removed the protesters from the foyer of building and back behind the barriers. The protesters later found out they had attacked the wrong building and that the consulate was further down.

Particularly controversial was Israel's intervention taking place 70 miles out to sea in international waters.

As of morning the protests still continued in front of the consulate, with slogans calling for Turkish troops to intervene in Gaza, for Turkey to own up to its ships, and various religiously motivated chants.

"This is a seed protest," protester Hakan Erden, a 40-year-old advertiser, told Xinhua, adding "It will extend from Turkey in waves and spread to the world."

Resat Baser, an official with the Human Rights and Freedoms Humanitarian Aid Foundation, said they had received information that the ships were taken to Israel's Haifa Port but could not confirm the information.

Small scale protests continue to go on throughout the city well into the evening.

Israel has been imposing a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip since the Islamic Hamas movement seized control of the enclave by force in June 2007. However, Israel said that in spite of the blockade, it allowed food, fuels and humanitarian aid into the enclave over the past three years.

The flotilla consisted of six ships carrying about 10,000 tons of aid and activists and had set sail from a port in Cyprus on Sunday and was scheduled to reach Gaza by Monday morning, Al- Jazeera reported.

Source: Xinhua


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