U.N. Holds Emergency Meeting on Israeli Raid

Israeli commandos on Monday stormed six ships carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists on an aid mission to the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens after encountering unexpected resistance upon boarding the vessels, Monday, May 31, 2010.
AP Photo/Uriel Sinai
Last Updated 5:02 p.m. ET

The U.N. Security Council is holding an emergency meeting on Israel's deadly commando raid on ships taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip, with the Palestinians and Arab nations calling for condemnation and an independent investigation.

The Palestinians and Arabs, backed by a number of council members, also called for Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, immediately release the ships and humanitarian activists, and allow them to deliver their goods.

"The bloody confrontation between Israeli naval commandos and pro-Palestinian activists on the high seas Monday comes at the same time that talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders had begun — and the violence may dash hopes of restarting the stalled Middle East peace negotiations," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk, reporting from the U.N.

Photos: Protests Against Israeli Flotilla Raid

Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco said in his briefing to the U.N.'s most powerful body that Monday's bloodshed would have been avoided "if repeated calls on Israel to end the counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza had been heeded,"

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the raid "murder conducted by a state" and demanded an immediate Israeli apology, an urgent inquiry, international legal action against the authorities and perpetrators responsible, and an end to the Gaza blockade."

He urged the council to adopt a statement demanding an immediate Israeli apology, an urgent inquiry, international legal action against the authorities and perpetrators responsible, an end to the Gaza blockade, and release of the ships and activists.

Earlier today, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the incident "inhumane state terrorism."

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it self-defense, saying Israeli commandos who boarded the vessels were attacked.

After statements from the 15 council members (as well as Israel and the Palestinians), the council moved into closed consultations to consider possible action.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, called the attack on unarmed civilians on board foreign ships in international waters a "war crime," and he declared that "those fleets, one after the other, will be coming until the unethical blockade is put to an end and the suffering stops for our people."

He told the council the Palestinians are demanding "decisive action" including an "independent, impartial investigation."

France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud also called for an "independent, credible" investigation that meets international standards, and the lifting of the Gaza blockade.

But U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff, made no mention of an international probe, saying: "We expect a credible and transparent investigation and strongly urge the Israeli government to investigate the incident fully."

While the Palestinians and Turks insisted that those on the ships were humanitarian and human rights activists, Israel's deputy U.N. ambassador Daniel Carmon said "this flotilla was anything but a humanitarian mission."

Some activists have "known terrorist history" and its organizers support radical Islamic networks such as Hamas, which controls Gaza and refuses to recognize Israel's existence, he said. "They are not peace activists ... They cynically use the guise of humanitarian aid to send a message of hate and to implement violence."

Carmon said the flotilla was a cynical use of civilians to create a confrontation, Falk reports.

Carmon defended the legality of Israel's blockade and the boarding of the ships — which refused repeated calls to send their cargo through Israel — as "a preventive measure" to counter the illegal attempt to break the blockade.

He called the results "tragic and unfortunate" and reiterated that Israel "deeply regrets any loss of innocent lives, but it cannot jeopardize its security. Nobody would."

Wolff said the United States, Israel's closest ally, "is deeply disturbed by the recent violence and regrets the tragic loss of life."

He called the flotilla's attempt to directly deliver aid to Gaza by sea "neither appropriate, nor responsible, (and) certainly not effective under the circumstances," but he also reiterated that the United States considers the situation in Gaza "untenable."

"We will continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods allowed into Gaza to address the full range of the population's humanitarian and recovery needs," Wolff said.

"Ultimately," he stressed, "this incident underscores the need to move ahead quickly with negotiations that can lead to a comprehensive peace."

The Security Council meeting ended after two hours Monday, but U.N. Ambassadors reconvened behind closed doors, Falk said, to consider a Presidential statement drafted earlier in the day at the Egyptian Mission by Arab Ambassadors. The statement would condemn the attack and call for an investigation.

Falk notes that today was the last day that Lebanon, which called the emergency meeting, was presiding over the Security Council.

Organizers of the flotilla included IHH, an Islamic humanitarian group that is based in Istanbul but operates in several other countries, and people affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group that often sends international activists into battle zones.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed regret for the loss of life, but called IHH a "violent organization operating under cover of humanitarian activity."

Israel recently arrested the IHH's West Bank operative, but said his arrest was not related to the planned aid mission.