More than 10 people died when Israeli forces stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid to Gaza, the Israeli army said, while in Australia there’s concern for a journalist and photographer on board the aid boats who have not been heard from since the deadly raid.
“From an initial report, more than 10 passengers were killed,” an Israeli army spokesman told Agence France-Presse in what was the first official confirmation of deaths on board the convoy.
He did not put a figure on the number of those injured in the deadly raid, which occurred early morning in the waters off Gaza, but said among them were four soldiers, one of them severely. He said live ammunition was used by both sides.
The ships, carrying more than 700 passengers, were on the last leg of an aid mission to deliver some 10,000 tonnes of supplies to Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007.
Unconfirmed media reports from Hamas’s Al Aqsa television said up to 20 passengers had been killed, of whom nine were Turkish nationals.
A Turkish charity involved with the flotilla said at least 15 people were killed, most of them Turkish nationals.
Media reports also said that senior Arab Israeli Islamist leader Raed Salah had been severely injured in the clashes, in which Gaza-based Hamas TV station said up to 20 people were killed.
According to Israel’s private channel 10 television, Israeli marine commandos had opened fire after being attacked with axes and knives by a number of the passengers on board the aid ships, the television said, without giving the source of its information.
Israel’s army radio said between 10 and 14 people had been killed in clashes which broke out after the passengers allegedly tried to grab weapons off the naval commandos who tried to storm one of the boats.
It was not clear whether the clashes took place on just one of the six boats making up the aid convoy.
Fairfax journalist Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty were last heard from about 12pm (AEST) on Monday while on board the MV Samoud, a Fairfax spokesman told AAP on Monday. “They’re on assignment covering the flotilla,” the spokesman said.
“They’ve been moving from boat to boat … and we last had contact with Paul around lunchtime today.
“He said they (Israeli forces) were beginning to jam communications and we haven’t been able to communicate with them since.”
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who has announced three days of mourning, termed the raid “a massacre”, while Arab League chief Amr Mussa said the raid was a “crime” against a humanitarian mission.
The bloody ending to the high-profile mission to deliver supplies to Gaza came on the eve of a meeting in Washington between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Police said Israeli security forces were put on high alert to handle any “possible disturbances” among the country’s Arab Israeli population in the wake of the deadly naval raid.
Turkey’s foreign ministry warned that the raid on the flotilla, which included Turkish vessels, may lead to “irreparable consequences” in bilateral ties.
“We strongly condemn these inhumane practices of Israel,” a written statement said.
“This deplorable incident, which took place in open seas and constitutes a fragrant breach of international law, may lead to irreparable consequences in our bilateral relations,” it said.
The Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, on Monday urged Arabs and Muslims to “rise up” in front of Israeli embassies across the globe in protest against Israel’s deadly raid.
In Turkey, some 400 demonstrators carrying Palestinian flags gathered outside the Israeli consulate in Turkey’s biggest city Istanbul on Monday to protest against the raid.
Greece summoned Israel’s ambassador Monday to demand an “immediate” report on the safety of about 30 Greeks on board the aid ship flotilla, while Kuwait’s official KUNA news agency reported that Islamist MP Waleed al-Tabtabai was among 16 Kuwaiti nationals on board one of the ships.
Ismail Haniya, the Islamist movement’s prime minister in Gaza, slammed the “ugly attack” in a statement in which he called for “the United Nations to protect the activists” on board the boats.
The Israeli military censor ordered a block on all information regarding those injured or killed during the storming of the ship.
Gaza’s Al-Aqsa television showed footage of black-clad Israeli commandos descending from helicopters and clashing with activists, as well as several wounded people lying on the deck of the ship.