By Frank James
Updated at 12:19 pm ET -- The White House just issued a brief statement on a phone call between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which Israel's raid on an aid flotilla to Gaza was discussed:
"This morning between 10:00 and 10:15 AM CDT, the President spoke by phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He said he understood the Prime Minister's decision to return immediately to Israel to deal with today's events. They agreed to reschedule their meeting at the first opportunity. The President expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today's incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals. The President also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning's tragic events as soon as possible."
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The reaction to Israel's deadly raid early Monday on a flotilla of activists attempting to run a blockade to bring aid to the Gaza Strip intensified throughout the day, with protests in Turkey, home to many of the activists, and mounting international condemnation.
The death toll from the incident in the Mediterranean Sea was given as at least 10 with some reports putting the number at nearly double that.
Israel said the raid came after a flotilla of aid ships failed to heed Israeli warnings to stop. Israel accused the flotilla of transporting weapons to Hamas, the anti-Israel Palestinian organization that controls Gaza. Israel justified its actions by calling the flotilla a provocation that couldn't be ignored.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said earlier Monday that the organizers of the Gaza aid flotilla have connections to international terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Al-Qaida, and called the aid convoy a violent and provocative attempt to break the blockade on Gaza.
Ayalon, speaking at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry, said that Israel found weapons aboard the Gaza flotilla, which were used against IDF troops.
The deputy foreign minister said that the Gaza flotilla did not heed Israel's calls to halt its movement toward Gaza on Monday morning, and stressed that no sovereign country would have allowed such a provocation to take place.
"We couldn't allow the opening of a corridor of smuggling arms and terrorists," said Ayalon.
The deputy foreign minister told reporters that Israel does not want to fight with any country, but that the incident on the Gaza flotilla is not yet over.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reported that Turkish protesters attacked symbols of the Israeli government:
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.
Reuters reports that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, on a visit to Chile, accused Israel of state terrorism.
"This action, totally contrary to the principles of international law, is inhumane state terrorism. Nobody should think we will keep quiet in the face of this," Erdogan told reporters from Chile, where he was cutting short an official visit to Latin America to deal with the crisis.
The United Nations Security Council, at Turkey's urging, has scheduled a meeting for 1 pm ET to discuss "The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question," according to message sent to reporters from a UN spokesman.
The White House has so far issued only the briefest of reactions:
"The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained, and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."
Israel's raid on the Turkish flotilla will clearly exacerbate already strained relations between the two countries.
Turkey and Israel have had a long, mostly respectful relationship going back to 1949 with Turkey being the first Muslim nation to recognize the newly created state of Israel.
But in recent years, since the coming to power of Erdogan's Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party in 2003, relations have frayed as Turkey has strengthened ties with Syria and Iran, two of Israel's greatest antagonists in the region.
Gaza has also been a sore point between Israel and Turkey, with the Turks insisting that Israel end its blockade against the Palestinian enclave. Israel's 2008-2009 military offensive against Gaza launched to stop extremists from firing rockets onto Israeli cities, also angered Turkey.
The Council of Foreign Relations has an informative interview with Steve A. Cook, a Middle East expert, on Garz's role in the worsening relations between Israel and Turkey.
Update at 8:15 a.m. ET, June 1: Earlier, this post described the Israeli actions as an "attack." Until more is known about exactly what transpired, the word "raid" seems more appropriate. We've updated the post to reflect that.
categories: Foreign News