Israel to release activists arrested in flotilla raid

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Israel plans to release all of the activists it arrested in its raid on ships traveling to the Gaza Strip in an effort to provide aid sometime today, as it comes under fire for its actions in the incident.

By Wednesday morning, around 120 people had been deported of the 682 that were arrested, with the remainder planned to be expelled from Israel within 24 hours. Although some reports indicated that more had died, it's now believed that only nine people were killed in the Israeli attack on the convoy, although one witness put the death toll at as high as sixteen.

The attack has been widely condemned by the international community, especially Turkey, whose prime minister called the incident a "bloody massacre." A statement from Turkey's Parliament said that "[t]his attack was an open violation of United Nations rules and international law." Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now envoy to a group negotiating for peace in the Middle East, the Quartet on the Middle East said that the incident was a "terrible, horrible and tragic incident."

Turkey has already recalled its ambassador to Israel, a move that came on Monday, and according to the Israeli media, families of Israeli diplomats are being evicted from Turkey.

Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, visited troops who had been involved in the incident, saying that "[w]e need to always remember that we aren't North America or Western Europe, we live in the Middle East, in a place where there is no mercy for the weak and there aren't second chances for those who don't defend themselves."

The origins of the raid are still unclear; Israel says that their troops had opened fire in self-defense after being attacked when they boarded a ship. Other reports from witnesses said that there had been only wooden sticks on board the vessels under the control of activists, however, and an Israeli official said that troops had attacked while still overhead the ships in helicopters.