Netanyahu Defends Israeli Raid On Flotilla

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In his first substantive comment on the deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish ship carrying relief supplies to Gaza, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the Israeli navy had no choice but to stop the vessel and five others to ensure that there were no arms on board destined for Hamas.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour with strong words today from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He defended Monday's deadly raid on a Turkish aid ship headed for the Gaza Strip. In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu said Israel regretted the debts of nine activists. But he insisted the blockade of Gaza must continue in order to prevent Hamas from rearming and attacking Israeli cities and towns.

NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Jerusalem.

PETER KENYON: If critics of Israel's military action against a Turkish aid ship were expecting an apology or even words of an independent investigation into what happened in the early hours of Monday morning, they were disappointed. Netanyahu opened with a harsh critique of the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza and remained defiant throughout his brief remarks.

He reminded his audience of previous ships that were intercepted while carrying arms believed to be destined for Hamas and other anti-Israeli militant groups. And he said Syria and Iran are still eager to get weaponry to Hamas.

Mr. BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (Prime Minister, Israel): (Through translator) It is our right to check every boat that tries to enter Gaza, to take out the weapons and let other aid in. I want the world to know what the results will be if we don't do this. It will be an Iranian proxy in Gaza.

KENYON: As Netanyahu branded the global criticism of Israel a wave of hypocritical international attacks, pressure mounted for a clear accounting of what happened when Israeli naval commandos boarded the Turkish aid ship.

The Internet has been flooded with videos, some posted by the Israeli military purporting to show Israeli commandos beset by a furious mob of attackers. Other videos from passengers and journalists aboard the ship appear to show crowds of activists panicking as the commandos descend from a helicopter.

The U.N. Human Rights Council today condemned what it called Israel's outrageous attack on the aid ship and demanded an independent investigation. Israeli officials moved to deport hundreds of activists after the attorney general decided it was in Israel's best interest to expel even those who might've been charged with crimes. Four Arab-Israeli activists, however, remain in custody and could face charges.

Meanwhile, Israeli commentators say they hope their government has come up with a better way of dealing with aid ships as the vessel Rachel Corrie, laden with Irish activists and aid, heads toward the eastern Mediterranean.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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