Gulf, Islamic, international condemnation of Israel’s attack on aid flotilla

GCC foreign ministers denounce “criminal Israeli aggression”

Israel facing international isolation after attack, desperately justifying its assault

Netanyahu cancels visit to White House as anti-Israel protests staged in Washington

International community calls for probing, punishing Israel’s acts

The international community, presidential administrations and world leaders have strongly criticized the Israeli raid on ships taking humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip in which at least 10 people were killed.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday accused Israel of state terrorism following the attack in neutral waters on the international aid convoy.

"No matter what Israel says its motives were, what they did was [an act of] state terrorism," he said in a national address on Turkish television adding that Turkey demands immediate release of its vessel which was taken hostage.

The Turkish premier cut his official visit to Latin America short and decided to return to Turkey, as did the Turkish defense minister who was on an official trip to Egypt.

In a statement from Russia's Foreign Ministry published on its official website on Monday, Russia expressed "condemnation and deep concern" over the incident and called for a full investigation.

The ministry also called the use of "weapons against citizens and the seizing of ships in open waters with no legal grounds a gross violation of commonly accepted international legal norms."

It also said the events proved the "necessity of a halt to the Gaza blockade."

World media said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also condemned the Israeli attack and called for a full investigation.

"I condemn this violence. It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place," he said at a press briefing after the opening ceremony of the first review conference of International Criminal Court adding that he was shocked by the incident.

"I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation," he continued.

Ban said he instructed a special coordinator to actively engage on the ground in urging restraint in ensuring that no further harm is done and coordinate with all the relevant parties.

The UN Security Council is expected to hold on Monday an emergency session over the incident.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek also slammed Israel over the raid and called for the EU to force Israel via the Middle East settlement international mediators Quartet to lift "the siege on the people of Gaza [...] immediately and unconditionally."

Russia, along with the UN, the United States and European Union, comprises part of the Middle East Quartet of intermediaries for peace efforts.

On Monday, the international community strongly criticized Israeli aggression. EU Foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton demanded a "full inquiry" into the attack and called for "an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of the crossing for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that an immediate investigation is needed and supported the participation of international observers in the investigation of the attack.

The Vatican has expressed "deep concern" over the Israeli military operation saying that the Vatican is following the situation with great interest and concern.

Poland has called for Israel to open an independent investigation adding that the country is also strongly concerned over the events.

Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel when several European countries including Belgium, France, Greece, Cyprus, Sweden, Bulgaria and others summoned Israeli ambassadors for explanations over the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla.

The Arab League said it might recommend Palestinians to halt indirect talks with Israel. It also earlier announced that the organization would hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss Israel's "terrorist attack" on the international ships.

German news agency DPA said citing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri as saying that the Israeli attack on the flotilla threatens to spark a war in the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was in Canada, has cancelled a planned meeting with the U.S. President Obama over a growing international crisis sparked by the attack.

The Israeli military admitted that it intercepted the international aid ship en route to the Gaza Strip in neutral waters in the Mediterranean Sea.

Israeli commandos stormed the Turkish-flagged vessel with hundreds of human rights activists by storm on Monday, killing at least 10.

"It happened in international waters, we confirm this," an Israeli Army spokesman told RIA Novosti, adding: "We did it there because we did not know what was happening on the ships and suspected there were explosives and other weapons on board."

In all, there were six vessels in the flotilla heading for the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian aid.

Israel has confiscated the vessel and is escorting it to the port of Ashdod, and will deport the activists on board, and send the humanitarian aid by land once it has been inspected.

Arab media said 16 people were killed and more than 30 injured when the Israeli military stormed the six-ship Freedom Flotilla carrying some 10,000 tons of aid to Gaza and 600 human rights activists earlier on Monday.

The Israeli Army's press service confirmed the deaths of more than 10 people, adding that four Israeli commandos had been injured in the attack.

Media said that Turkish, U.S., British, Australian, Greek, Canadian, Malaysian, Algerian, Serbian, Belgian, Irish, Norwegian, Swedish and German citizens were on board of the vessels.

Israel, which has enforced an almost constant blockade against Gaza since the radical Islamic group Hamas took control of the enclave in summer 2007, earlier called the mission a "provocation" and threatened to intercept the ships and deport those onboard.

Arab countries slammed Israel's deadly raid Monday against a Gaza-bound aid flotilla as a "crime" and "state terrorism" while they urged the United Nations to hold the Jewish state accountable.

"We condemn this crime, taken against a humanitarian mission and people. They were trying to help people. They were not on a military mission. Everyone should condemn this," Arab League chief Amr Moussa told AFP.

Moussa warned that the Israeli action meant "everything" was now left "hanging in the air," including US-brokered proximity talks that only started on May 9 between the Jewish state and the Palestinians.

"This is another message, a very powerful message, that Israel does not want peace, is not ready to enter into peace," Moussa said on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum summit in the Qatari capital.

"Lifting the siege (on Gaza) should be part of any confidence-building measures, any preparation for a successful round of proximity talks," he added.

Moussa said he had called a meeting of the Arab League council to be held on Tuesday to discuss the attack.

"We are all very angry," he said. "Tomorrow, there will be a collective position taken."

At least nine people were killed when Israeli commandos at dawn raided a convoy of ships carrying aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak slammed the use of "excessive and unjustified force" in the raid, while the foreign ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to express its condemnation.

Jordan, the only other Arab country along with Egypt to have a peace treaty with Israel, handed the Israeli charge d'affaires a protest note against what Information Minister Nabil Sharif described as a "heinous crime."

Protests swept several Arab capitals with over 2,000 people taking to the street of Amman demanding the closure of the Israeli embassy while thousands demonstrated nationwide in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia condemned the "massacre committed by Israel" and urged the international community "to "assume its responsibility in face of (Israel's) aggressions," the SPA news agency said, quoting a government statement.

In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri slammed the "heinous crime" and the "flagrant violations for the most basic human rights," SANA state news agency said.

The two leaders also warned that Israel's acts "threaten to pull the Middle East into a war whose consequences will not be limited to the region."

In Beirut Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah echoed the warning saying if the international community does not take action quickly "the situation in the region will get worse."

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) condemned the attack saying it was an act of "state terrorism" in a statement issued by its secretary general Abdul Rahman al-Attiya.

"Israel believes it is not accountable in international law for its acts. This has allowed it to use excessive military force against innocent civilians," he said.

Attiya called on the international community to "hunt the Israelis who were behind this crime, in order to bring them in front of the International Criminal Court."

Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani condemned the raid, branding it an "act of piracy."

"The crimes that were committed at dawn today... remind all of us that there is an unjust blockade" in place against Gaza, Sheikh Hamad told the opening session of the World Economic Forum.

Sheikh Hamad called for an end to Israel's crippling blockade of Gaza, which it has maintained since Hamas took power in the impoverished, overcrowded territory in 2007.

"All those who speak of justice and freedom and democracy are now required to do something to break this blockade," he said.

Kuwait, which has 16 of its citizens on board the aid flotilla, urged the permanent members of the UN Security Council to press Israel to ensure their safety.

The United Arab Emirates also called upon the "international community to assume its responsibilities in face of the Israeli barbaric aggression," in a statement carried by WAM state news agency.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to conduct an "international investigation in the attack and present a comprehensive report to the United Nations."

Oman said the attack "violates international law." Pro-Palestinian activists have landed with aid in Gaza five times, with another three attempts unsuccessful since their first such sea voyage in August 2008.

The international community united in condemning Israel following an attack on an aid flotilla bound for the blockaded Gaza Strip that left at least ten people dead.

Spontaneous protests erupted across Europe and the Middle East, as US president Barack Obama expressed "deep regret" over the massacre.

Israeli forces stormed the convoy of six ships carrying aid in a pre-dawn raid that saw commandos abseiling on to a boat and shooting dead pro-Palestinian aid volunteers.

Four Scots were believed to be among at least 27 Britons on board the flotilla. Their fate was unknown last night, although the Foreign Office said no Britons were among the dead. Israel said its forces were forced to respond to "unexpected resistance" as they boarded the vessels, but one Scottish witness said the Israelis had faced no resistance.

Obama demanded emergency talks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night, as planned peace talks were cancelled. Foreign Secretary William Hague led the worldwide chorus of condemnation, saying: "I deplore the loss of life during the interception of the Gaza flotilla. Our embassy is in urgent contact with the Israeli government."

Calling for an urgent lifting of an Israeli blockade on Gaza, Hague added: "The closure of Gaza is unacceptable and counter-productive.

"There can be no better response from the international community to this tragedy than to achieve urgently a durable resolution to the Gaza crisis."

He revealed that at least one Briton was among the injured as he demanded access to 16 UK citizens being held by the Israelis.

International leaders condemned the raid, while Greece, Egypt, Sweden, Spain and Denmark summoned Israel's ambassadors, demanding explanations for the violence.

Spain and France issued statements decrying the "disproportionate use of force", while Greece suspended a military exercise with Israel and postponed a visit by Israel's air force chief.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said: "It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place.

"I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation."

Netanyahu expressed "regret" for the loss of life, but said the soldiers had no choice.

"Our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives, or they would have been killed," he said. Israel said it opened fire after its commandos were attacked with knives, clubs and live fire from two pistols wrested from soldiers after they descended from a helicopter to board one of the vessels.

Night-vision footage released by the Israeli military showed soldiers dropping from a helicopter one by one and being grabbed by men wielding sticks on the lead boat, the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara.

The soldiers fell to the deck, where the men continued to beat them and dumped one of them from the top deck.

Five Israeli soldiers were wounded, two seriously, including at least one hit by live fire, the army said. Two of the dead activists had fired at soldiers with pistols, the Israeli army said.

"They planned this attack," said Israeli military spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovitch. "Our soldiers were injured from these knives and sharp metal objects … as well as from live fire."

The ships were being towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, and the wounded were evacuated by helicopter to Israeli hospitals, Israeli officials said last night. One of the ships had reached port by midday.

There were no details on the identities of the casualties, or on the conditions of some of the more prominent people on board, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire from Northern Ireland and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 85.

In Turkey, which unofficially sponsored the aid mission, 10,000 protesters converged on Taksim Square in central Istanbul last night to voice anger at Israel's use of force against an aid convoy with many of their countrymen aboard. Most of the dead are believed to be Turkish.

Smaller protests erupted in capitals across the Middle East, Europe and South Asia.

Several hundred people protested outside Downing Street in London to denounce Israel after the deadly raid. Chanting "Free Palestine" and brandishing banners condemning Israeli "war crimes", activists blocked Whitehall as they staged an angry but peaceful demonstration.

In Scotland, emergency protests were staged in Edinburgh's Princes Street, outside the Caledonian Hotel, and Glasgow's George Square. Smaller protests were staged in Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness.

A national demonstration will take place on Saturday at the Mound in Edinburgh.

Veteran pro-Palestinian campaigner George Galloway described the operation as "a murderous act of piracy".

The family of one of the Scots on board, Dr. Hasan Nowarah, 45, from Glasgow, were desperately trying to contact him last night.

His wife Seonaig said: "We are just absolutely shocked and the problem is not knowing anything is really, really difficult.

"I haven't spoken to Hasan since he left Crete four days ago. I have been in touch with the Foreign Office, but no-one seems to know anything."

Theresa McDermott, 43, a post office worker from Edinburgh, was also on board. Her friend Carl Abernethy said:

"It is very worrying.

"The last I heard was that they were 65km from land, safely in international waters and they were going to wait until daylight to see if they could get to Gaza."

Mark Lazarowicz, Ms McDermott's MP in Edinburgh North and Leith, said: "She is a very brave woman, an ordinary post office worker who just felt she had to do something about the injustice in Gaza.

"I have been in touch with the Foreign Office, asking that they demand her release immediately."

Ali El Awaisi, 21, a history and politics student from Dundee, who is from a Palestinian family, was on his first aid mission abroad.

His brother Khaled said: "They didn't have any guns or any arms, they were searched in Turkey. They were not allowed to have anything on board.

"I said to him: 'What if the Israelis attack?' He said they were planning to resist in as peaceful way as possible."

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon condemned the attack and expressed her concern for the Scots involved last night.

She said: "My primary concern is for the safety of the Scots on board. The Israeli government must provide immediate reassurance of their well-being.

"This violence against a humanitarian convoy is rightly condemned across the world and demonstrates the need for Israel to lift the blockade."