Monday, May 31, 2010

Deadly Israeli raid on aid fleet

    8:21 AM   No comments

Al Jazeera's report from the ship Mavi Marmara before communications were cut

Israeli commandos have attacked a flotilla of aid-carrying ships off the coast of the Gaza Strip, killing up to 19 people on board.

Dozens of others were injured when troops raided the convoy of six ships, dubbed the Freedom Flotilla, early on Monday.

Israel said activists on board attacked its commandos as they boarded the six ships, while the flotilla's organisers said the Israeli forces opened fire first, as soon as they stormed the convoy.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, gave his "full backing" to the military forces after the raid.

"The prime minister... reiterated his full backing for the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] and inquired about the well-being of the wounded," his office told the AFP news agency.

Israeli media reported that many of the dead were Turkish nationals.

Organisers of the Freedom Flotilla say it was carrying 600 activists and 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid with the aim of breaking the Israeli siege of Gaza.

Protests worldwide

Hamas, the Palestinian group which governs the Gaza Strip, said the assault was a "massacre" and called on the international ommunities to intervene.

Hamas, whose leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, called the Israeli action "barbaric", urged Arabs and Muslims to show their anger by staging protests outside Israeli embassies across the globe.

The call came even as demonstrations denouncing the Israeli raid were being held in many cities around the world, including the capitals of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.


Updates of Israel's attack on Gaza flotilla

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank clashed with Israeli security forces who responded with tear gas, injuring many.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, officially declared a three-day state of mourning.

Thousands of Turkish protesters tried to storm the Israeli consulate in Istanbul soon after the news of the operation broke. The protesters shouted "Damn Israel" as police blocked them.

"(The interception on the convoy) is unacceptable ... Israel will have to endure the consequences of this behaviour," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

The United Nations Security Council was to meet on Monday afternoon for an emergency session to discuss the matter, diplomats said.

Turkey, Spain, Greece, Denmark and Sweden have all summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their respective countries to protest against the assault.

Live ammunition

Al Jazeera's Jamal Elshayyal, on board the flotilla's lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, said in his last report before communications were cut off, that Israeli troops used live ammunition during the assault.

The Israeli military, 10 of whose soldiers were reportedly wounded in the operation, said troops opened fire after "demonstrators on board attacked the IDF naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs".

Our correspondent said that a white surrender flag was raised from the ship and there was no live fire coming from the passengers.


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Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from the Israeli port of Ashdod, were the aid ships were taken after the assault, said the Israeli army was not giving any details of who had been killed, injured or detained.

She said at least 16 flotilla activists had been taken to an Israeli prison after the first two ships docked.

The flotilla, attempting to break through the Israeli siege of Gaza, was attacked in international waters, 65km off the Palestinian coastal enclave.

Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, confirmed that the attack took place in international waters, saying: "This happened in waters outside of Israeli territory, but we have the right to defend ourselves."

Footage from the Mavi Marmara showed armed Israeli soldiers boarding the ship and helicopters flying overhead.

Israeli accounts of the incident said its navy had contacted the Mavi Marmara's captain asking him to identify himself and say where the ship was headed.

Shortly afterwards, two Israeli naval vessels flanked the flotilla on either side, but at a distance.

Organisers of the flotilla then diverted their ships and slowed down to avoid a confrontation during the night.

They also issued all passengers life jackets and asked them to remain below deck.

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Jerusalem, said the Israeli action was surprising.

"All the images being shown from the activists on board those ships show clearly that they were civilians and peaceful in nature, with medical supplies on board. So it will surprise many in the international community to learn what could have possibly led to this type of confrontation," he said.

Troops on alert

Following the news of the flotilla deaths, Israeli police were put on a heightened state of alert across the country to prevent any civil disturbances.

Sheikh Raed Salah,a leading member of the Islamic Movement who was on board theMavi Marmara, was reported to have been seriously injured in Monday's raid. He was being treated in Israel's Tal Hasharon hospital.

In Um Al Faham, the stronghold of the Islamic Movement in Israel and the birthplace of Salah, preparations for mass demonstrations were under way.

Worldwide outrage has followed the deadly Israeli attack on the Gaza aid convoy [AFP]

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists, including a Nobel laureate and several European legislators, were on board the flotilla.

They came from the UK, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey among other countries.

But Israel had said it would stop the flotilla before it could reach Gaza.

The flotilla had set sail from a port in Cyprus on Sunday and aimed to reach Gaza by Monday morning.

Israel said the boats were embarking on "an act of provocation" against the Israeli military rather than providing aid, and issued warrants to prohibit their entrance to Gaza.

It asserted that the flotilla would be breaking international law by landing in Gaza, a claim the organisers rejected.

Israel's response

Defending Monday's military raid, Mark Regev, the Israeli government spokesperson, said the Israeli commandos came under fire from people on board the flotilla whom he branded as "violent extremists".

"Israel was totally within its rights under international law to intercept the ship and to take it to the port of Ashdod," he told Al Jazeera.

"Unfortunately they were met by the activists on the boats with deadly violence, knives, metal clubs, even live fire on our service people. They initiated the violence."

He said the people on board the flotilla were not peaceful activists.

"They are part of the IHH, which is a radical Turkish Islamist organisation which has been investigated by Western governments and by the Turkish government itself in the past for their links with terrorist organisations."

The Turkish parliament has dismissed this claim, saying it had investigated the ship and the people on board, finding no links to such organisations.

Turks rally against Israeli attack

    8:20 AM   No comments
Protesters denounced the raid on Gaza aid ships by Israel [Reuters]

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in the Turkish city of Istanbul to denounce Israel over its attack on the convoy of Gaza-bound aid ships that left at least 19 people dead.

Around 10,000 people marched from the Israeli consulate in Istanbul towards the city's main square on Monday, shouting slogans and waving banners saying "Killer Israel".

Protests also took place in Ankara, the capital.

A Turkish charity has said most of those killed in the raid on six ships in international waters were Turkish nationals.

Earlier on Monday protesters attempted to storm the Israeli consulate, scaling over the compound's walls, but were blocked from going further by police.

Israel has advised its citizens to avoid travel to Turkey and instructed those already there to keep a low profile and avoid crowded downtown areas.

Emergency UN meeting

Turkey's foreign ministry has condemned the Israeli raid, and recalled its ambassador to Israel.

It has also called for an emergency United Nations meeting over the incident, an unnamed diplomat has said.


Aftermath of Israel's attack on Gaza flotilla

"We are preparing to call for a meeting of the UN Security Council on the issue," the diplomat said without explaining what action Ankara would demand against Israel.

Turkey's deputy prime minister added that the nation would be cancelling three joint military exercises and recalling a youth soccer team from Israel.

Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Istanbul, said relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated since the Gaza war.

"Up til that point they had ... a constructive military alliance and for many years they saw the issue of domestic terrorism as one they had to share information about.

"But since the Gaza war relations have nose-dived and it would be absolutely fair to say that this is the lowest point," she said.

International condemnation

Israeli forces stormed the so-called Freedom Flotilla, which was carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists and tonnes of aid, while they were 65km off the Gaza coast in international waters.


Two Palestinian's who are also members of Israeli parliament
Swedish author Henning Mankell
Nobel peace prize laureate Mairead Maguire
Aengus Snodaigh, member of the Irish parliament
Irish writer and historian Fintan Lane
Three German parliamentarians

The action has brought widespread condemnation, with the EU foreign affairs chief demanding that Israeli authorities mount a "full inquiry" into the attack.

Catherine Ashton 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 said.

France and the UN's Mideast envoy have also condemned the attack, while Greece suspended a military exercise with Israel and postponed a visit by Israel's air force chief.

More protests denouncing the action are planned in London later on Monday.

The some 700 activists on board the flotilla included people from many different countries, including United States, Britain, Australia, Greece, Canada, Malaysia, Algeria, Serbia, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Kuwait.

The majority were Turkish.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Amnesty: U.S., Europe shielding Israel over Gaza war crimes

    5:44 AM   No comments

In its annual report, the rights group accuses Israel of continually violating human rights in Gaza with its ongoing economic siege.

Amnesty International complained in its annual report released Thursday that the U.S. and members of the European Union had obstructed international justice by using their positions on the UN Security Council to shield Israel from accountability for war crimes allegedly committed during last year's Gaza war.

The rights group also accused Israel of continually violating human rights in the Gaza Strip. It cited Israel's ongoing economic blockade as violating international law, leaving Gaza residents without adequate food or water supplies

In its report, Amnesty lauded a United Nations commissioned report released last year by South African justice Richard Goldstone for highlighting Israeli violations during the war in Gaza. Goldstone's findings found both Israel and Hamas guilty of war crimes during the conflict.

"Israeli forces committed war crimes and other serious breaches of international law in the Gaza Strip during a 22-day military offensive codenamed Operation 'Cast Lead' that ended on 18 January (2009)," the rights group said.

"Among other things, they carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians, targeted and killed medical staff, used Palestinian civilians as 'human shields', and indiscriminately fired white phosphorus over densely populated residential areas," it added. "More than 1,380 Palestinians, including over 330 children and hundreds of other civilians, were killed."

"In a display of counter political bias, the UN Human Rights Council, initially resolved to investigate only alleged Israeli violations," said the report. "To his credit, Judge Richard Goldstone, subsequently appointed to lead that investigation, insisted that the UN Fact-Finding Mission should examine alleged violations by both Israel and Hamas."

The group's report listed examples of what it said were war crimes committed by Israeli forces, but did not provide details of sources.

Amnesty's annual roundup of global human rights abuses urged members of the G-20 — a collection of major industrial countries and fast-growing developing countries — to set an example to the international community by signing up to the International Criminal Court.

The United States and others have refused to ratify the court's founding treaty partly because they fear the court could become a forum for politically motivated prosecutions of troops in unpopular wars like Iraq.

The U.S. State Department said in response to Amnesty's accusations that it "supports the need for accountability for any violations that may have occurred in relation to the Gaza conflict by any party."

"As we have said, the responsibility to address alleged abuses during the Gaza conflict lies with the Israelis and the Palestinians," the State Department said in a statement.

Israel earlier this year submitted a 46-page response to Goldstone's inquiry, which accused both Israel and Hamas of "grave breaches" of the fourth Geneva Convention.

In its report, Israel claimed its forces abided by international law throughout the war last year.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Goldstone family drawn into row over Gaza report

    11:16 AM   No comments

• War crimes jurist attacked for report critical of Israel
• Jewish groups threaten to disrupt bar mitzvah

Justice Richard Goldstone

Richard Goldstone is being threatened with protests by Jews if he attends his grandson's coming of age ceremony in South Africa. Photograph: HO/Reuters

Richard Goldstone, the former international war crimes prosecutor, is being forced to meet South African Jewish leaders to hear of their anger over a UN report in which he accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. The meeting, which Goldstone did not seek, is effectively a condition for his being allowed to attend his grandson's bar mitzvah in Johannesburg.

The renowned South African jurist, who works in Washington, was effectively barred from attending the traditional ceremony at an orthodox synagogue this month after Jewish groups threatened to disrupt it if Goldstone was present.

In the ensuing row, which spread from Johannesburg to America and Israel, Goldstone accused South Africa's chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, of "brazenly politicising" the bar mitzvah.

Goldstein has been at the forefront of a global campaign to discredit and vilify Goldstone over the UN report, which accused Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes in Gaza during last year's fighting. The chief rabbi has called the former South African supreme court justice a liar, accusing him of "delegitimising Israel".

Three weeks ago, Goldstone announced that his family had asked him not to attend his 13-year-old grandson's bar mitzvah because militantly pro-Israel Jews said they would picket the synagogue during the ceremony. The synagogue elders had also expressed concern about the threat of disruption. Although the source of the threats was unclear, they were linked by Goldstone's supporters in the Jewish community to the South African Zionist Federation and the chief rabbi.

"It's the establishment behind this," said Steven Friedman, a professor of politics at Rhodes university who is a critic of the South African Jewish leadership's unbending support for Israel. "The chief rabbi orchestrated the whole thing. There is a sustained attempt to vilify Goldstone by the Zionist Federation. The only reason he's coming now is it's a public relations disaster. They were getting a roasting in the press in the South Africa."

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies – which has accused Goldstone of "selling out" – brokered an agreement under which his critics will not disrupt his grandson's bar mitzvah in return for the former judge meeting Jewish organisations to hear their fury at his Gaza report.

After the Gaza report was published, Goldstone was subjected to a barrage of abuse. Israeli cabinet ministers denounced Goldstone as an antisemite. Israel's president, Shimon Peres, who reached secret military agreements with South Africa's white rulers, called Goldstone "a small man, devoid of any sense of justice".

Alan Dershowitz, the prominent American constitutional lawyer, recently called Goldstone a "despicable human being". Dershowitz has previously denounced the war crimes investigator as "an evil, evil man", "a traitor to the Jewish people" and the UN's "token court Jew".

Goldstein has contended that the Goldstone report was "unequivocally hostile to Israel while being little more than fallacious propaganda".

But the threats to Goldstone over the bar mitzvah drew support for the former judge from a wide array of South Africans. Another retired supreme court justice and member of the Jewish community, Albie Sachs, said he "felt sick" over the attacks on Goldstone.

"I could not believe that political anger against him – which people had every right to express – had evolved into an uncontrolled and unconscionable rage that sought to violate the spirit of one of the most sacred aspects of formal Jewish tradition," he wrote. "What saddens me today is that any Jew who speaks out with an independent voice especially with the conduct of the State of Israel, is regarded as a self-hating Jew … Why should someone be made to choose between being a Jew and having a conscience?"

Goldstein has denied having a hand in the protests. In a column in Johannesburg's Business Day newspaper he said that after discussions within the Jewish community the synagogue will be open to Goldstone, but went on to attack his UN report as legally, factually and morally flawed and to accuse him of endangering Israel's security. Goldstone responded by condemning the chief rabbi's "questionable and unfortunate approach".

"I was dismayed that the chief rabbi would so brazenly politicise the occasion of my 13-year-old grandson's bar mitzvah to engage in further personal attacks," he wrote. "His rhetoric about 'open synagogues' simply does not coincide with how my family and I have been treated."

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