More than 10 people onboard a flotilla carrying aid for the Palestinian territory of Gaza were killed when security forces boarded the boats Monday, the Israeli military said. Four soldiers were wounded, the military added.
Soldiers boarded six ships, the military said, after the flotilla refused to heed warnings to dock at Israel’s Ashdod port, where supplies would be unloaded and transferred to Gaza.
“At about 4:30 am, Israeli commandos dropped from helicopter onto deck of Turkish ship, immediately opened fire on unarmed civilians,” a post on the group’s Twitter page said.
Video aired on CNN sister network CNN Turk showed what appeared to be soldiers rappelling onto the deck of a ship.
Turkish media reported two dead and 50 injured in the alleged incident as a flotilla of six ships approached the Gaza coast. Free Gaza co-founder Greta Berlin told Al Jazeera English that its lawyers in Israel informed her that 10 people have been killed and many others injured. CNN could not immediately confirmed the reports.
“We did not attack any boat, we merely fulfill the Israeli government’s decision to prevent anyone from going into the Gaza strip without coordinating with Israel,” a statement from the Israeli military said. “The flotilla is a provocation made to de-legitimize Israel. Had they really wanted to deliver the cargo into Gaza they could have done so via Israel as it is done on a daily basis.”
Israel’s deputy foreign minister has scheduled a press conference for 10:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. ET).
In Istanbul, Turkey, the Foreign Ministry has summoned the Israeli ambassador for an explanation, according to Murat Mercan, head of parliament’s foreign relations committee, who said he’s expected a “very harsh declaration” from Turkish authorities.
A protest that began outside the Israeli embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday continued into Monday. Although largely peaceful, police did use water cannons at one point to keep demonstrators a bay.
The convoy of boats approached Gaza in defiance of an Israeli blockade and had been shadowed by three Israeli warships. Free Gaza had reported Sunday that they had been contacted by the Israeli navy.
The boats left European ports in a consolidated protest organized by two pro-Palestinian groups to deliver tons of food and other aid to Gaza to break a blockade imposed by Israel in 2007.
The maritime convoys are being organized by both the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish-based IHH, a humanitarian relief foundation affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood religious group.
Israel said Sunday that Western and Turkish authorities have accused IHH of having “working relations” with different terrorist organizations.
Contacted by CNN, the IDF reiterated the Israeli government’s offer for the flotilla to dock at Israel’s Ashdod port, where supplies would be unloaded and transferred to Gaza.
The IDF said the Gaza shoreline is not specifically deemed a “closed military area,” but it is closed to maritime traffic. The Israeli government has decided to prevent all ships from reaching the Gaza shore to prevent any attempts to bring in ammunition or missiles that could potentially harm Israeli citizens, the IDF said.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Sunday that Israeli civilians were plagued a year ago by rockets and missiles fired from Gaza that originated in places like Iran and Syria.
The government wants to check vessels heading into Gaza to make sure rockets and missiles aren’t being smuggled in, he said.
“For us, it’s a life and death issue,” Regev said.
About 15,000 tons of humanitarian aid flows into Gaza per week, Regev said. He questioned whether the flotilla is really interested in helping people in Gaza, or just wants to “make a political point, which is difficult to understand.”