10 Killed As Iraelis Board Gaza Aid Convoy
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A flotilla headed for Gaza, carrying pro-Palestinian activists and tons of aid, took a stunning turn early this morning when a deadly confrontation with Israeli naval forces left at least 10 activists dead and dozens wounded. The boats were challenging Israeli's blockade of Gaza. And among those reported on board were an Irish Nobel Peace laureate, former American diplomats, and a prominent Muslim cleric from Israel.
Before dawn, Israeli commandos dropped down from a helicopter on ropes and boarded one of the boats, a Turkish vessel, in the Mediterranean. We reached reporter Sheera Frenkel in the Israeli port city of Ashdod, for the latest on the confrontation.
SHEERA FRENKEL: Dozens have been evacuated to hospitals with injuries, and at least one of the boats involved in this flotilla has been stopped before reaching Gaza. Video footage that we've seen from the boat shows a number of IDF navy commandos rappelling from Blackhawk helicopters onto the boats. The soldiers are heard calling out to the flotilla to stop or prepare to be boarded. And afterwards, you see armed soldiers onboard the ships, and the footage becomes very, very chaotic at that point. You see activists wearing orange life vests that are running across the deck, carrying what appears to be wounded people.
MONTAGNE: Israel had said that it would keep the flotilla from reaching Gaza, but was anyone expecting such a violent confrontation?
FRENKEL: The activists had announced that they would be unarmed, but that they would resist the Israeli navy and not allow them to board their ships. What we're hearing from the Israeli side is a great deal of surprise - and I think concern for how this is going to play out on the international stage. And from the activists themselves, there's also been - it's a limited response, but we've heard quite a bit of surprise that it got so deadly so quickly.
MONTAGNE: These flotillas have - this has happened before, and it always ended peacefully.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Our report failed to mention a July 2009 attempt to breach the blockade of Gaza. We should have said the boats that have attempted to arrive since Operation Cast Lead were all turned away by the Israeli navy.]
FRENKEL: There have been five ships that have made their way into the Gaza Strip. And the last ship was the only one to have been stopped. That was during Operation Cast Lead here, a year and a half ago. That boat was successfully turned away by the Israeli navy with a minimal amount of damage to the ship, and no injuries to the people onboard.
MONTAGNE: Tell us a little bit more about the flotilla: what it was trying to do, what kind of aid or supplies it was carrying, and what was the expectation as to how it would end?
FRENKEL: The aim of the flotilla was to bring attention to the blockade on the Gaza Strip. There's been a blockade on Gaza since 2007, when Hamas seized control of the coastal territory. Israel completely controls that areas and decides which goods go into and out of the Gaza Strip. Now these activists, these pro-Palestinian activists, had decided that they would try to breach that blockade by reaching the Gaza Strip by sea.
On their boats, they said that they carried more than 10,000 tons of aid. Most importantly, actually, was that they were carrying cement into Gaza. So because of the blockade, only limited reconstruction was possible in the wake of the three-week operation Cast Lead that Israel launched in Gaza a year and a half ago.
During that operation, there was devastation to large amounts of Gaza, and huge neighborhoods were just completely leveled, really. Many of the destroyed homes there have remained unbuilt more than a year and a half later. And so these activists had decided to bring large amounts of cement, to allow the Palestinians to begin to rebuild some of these neighborhoods.
MONTAGNE: And of course, Israel says that cement could be used for other, more nefarious purposes.
FRENKEL: Exactly. Israel says that the cement can also be used by militants to try and stage attacks on Israel.
MONTAGNE: And already - you talked about the politics of it - already, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president, is calling this a massacre.
FRENKEL: We're getting a very strong reaction here from the Palestinian people. Mahmoud Abbas has called it a massacre and has said that he's calling he's convening, rather, a cabinet meeting this evening to discuss whether the Palestinians should continue in peace talks with Israelis. And now, these indirect peace talks led by the United States have been a major, major endeavor by the Barack Obama administration, and for them to be called off because of this would be a major sort of diplomatic crisis, both between Israel and the United States, and between Israeli and the Palestinian people.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
FRENKEL: All right. Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Sheera Frenkel, reporting from the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
Correction June 25, 2010
We said that five ships have made their way into the Gaza Strip and that the last ship was the only one that was stopped. That was during Operation Cast Lead, a year and a half ago. Our report failed to mention a July 2009 attempt to breach the blockade of Gaza. We should have said the boats that have attempted to arrive since Operation Cast Lead were all turned away by the Israeli navy.