Israel resists calls to apologize for raid
Israel struck a defiant tone Tuesday over its lethal raid of a Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla, saying it had nothing to apologize for even as much of the world called for an end to its three-year blockade of the coastal Palestinian enclave
Los Angeles Times
JERUSALEM — Israel struck a defiant tone Tuesday over its lethal raid of a Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla, saying it had nothing to apologize for even as much of the world called for an end to its three-year blockade of the coastal Palestinian enclave.
Israel's hard-line response came as organizers of the flotilla said they were sending another ship to attempt to break the siege, which began after the militant Palestinian group Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.
The border restrictions were partly eased Tuesday when Egypt, facing diplomatic pressure from fellow Muslim nations, announced it would open its own crossing into the Gaza Strip at Rafah to allow shipments of humanitarian and medical supplies.
The government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has closed the border for all but a few days each month in an effort to weaken Hamas. Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.
Meanwhile, activists released by Israel began issuing their accounts of the confrontation at sea that left nine activists dead.
On Wednesday, Jordan said 124 activists detained in the raid arrived in Jordan after being deported from neighboring Israel.
A government spokesman Nabil Al-Sharif said there were 30 Jordanians in the group. Jordan is one of two Arab nations with a signed peace treaty with Israel.
The initial firsthand versions had come almost exclusively from the Israeli government, which jammed communication with the flotilla and incarcerated most of the activists once ashore. Israel's military released video it said showed its commandos being attacked on board the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship leading a Turkish-sponsored convoy, by activists armed with sticks and other weapons. It said its commandos fired live rounds only in self-defense.
On Tuesday, the captain of one of the other ships in the flotilla, Capt. Huseyin Tokalak, said Israeli ships opened fire on the Mavi Marmara before boarding that ship, according to Reuters. He also said Israel had threatened to sink his ship unless commandos were allowed to board and take control.
The emergence of contrasting versions of the melee at sea fueled calls for an independent international inquiry. The White House issued a statement Tuesday saying that President Obama, during a condolence call to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, offered U.S. support for "a credible, impartial and transparent investigation of the facts."
"A simple policy"
Israeli government officials have not indicated whether they intend to open a formal inquiry. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned hastily to Israel from Canada after canceling Tuesday's planned White House meeting with Obama, defended the raid and said his administration has no plans to alter its policy toward Gaza.
"We have a simple policy, which will continue," the prime minister said.
Israel says a continuing siege is needed to prevent Hamas from receiving weapons and foreign support from Iran and other anti-Israel countries. In recent months, Israel has allowed trucks to cross into Gaza with limited amounts of clothing and cement; many food items and essential goods are available but many families cannot afford to pay for them.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon scoffed at calls for Israel to apologize, saying flotilla activists prompted the violence by attacking soldiers during the raid. "We do not need to apologize for defending ourselves," he said.
But Israel did say it would release — and deport — the 680 activists it had arrested in the raid. And as international criticism swelled, the public mood appeared to shift in Israel as well, with many questioning whether the botched predawn raid on a ship in international waters was worth the damage to the country's image.
Israeli newspaper headlines Tuesday used language like "fiasco" and "flawed policy" to describe what they saw as a poorly planned mission and clumsy handling of the political aftermath, with some calling for Defense Minister Ehud Barak to resign.
And some voices inside Israel were raised against continuing the cordon around Gaza, which was imposed after the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.
"We are no longer defending Israel," wrote columnist Bradley Burston in Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper. "We are now defending the siege. The siege itself is becoming Israel's Vietnam."
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and national security adviser Uzi Arad spent four hours in meetings Tuesday at the White House, including a session with James Jones, Obama's national security adviser.
The discussions explored ways for future humanitarian deliveries to reach Gaza without jeopardizing Israel's security, a White House official said. Behind the White House's message was a sense within the administration that Israel's approach toward upholding its blockade is unworkable over the long term, and the focus now is on preventing another deadly raid at sea.
Turkey, meanwhile, complained that the Obama administration had watered down a Security Council statement negotiated Monday night in New York. The 15-member Council issued a carefully crafted condemnation, which criticized "acts" of violence, but did not specifically condemn Israel.
Israel rejected the Security Council statement. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman telephoned U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon to complain and called the statement "unacceptable."
Central to the criticism of Israel were questions about the legality of its actions. The raid took place on a ship that was apparently unarmed, in international waters. But Allen Weiner, a former State Department lawyer and legal counsel at the U.S. Embassy at The Hague, said Israel was technically operating legally.
"Israel claims to be in a state of armed conflict with a nonstate group, with Hamas in Gaza. Under the laws of war, a blockage is legal," said Weiner, who teaches at Stanford Law School. "That includes operating on the high seas. You don't have to wait until you are on territorial waters."
Leaders of Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla, say they are still determined to attempt to break the siege with a cargo ship that is already in the Mediterranean. The MV Rachel Corrie, the seventh ship in the flotilla, will attempt to reach Gaza. The ship is named for the Olympia, Wash., native and student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, killed in Gaza in 2003 while protesting Israeli home demolitions.
The ship is expected to arrive off Israel in the next week.
Israeli officials have vowed to intercept it.
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