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Israel flotilla action criticized by friends and foes

DUBAI (Reuters) - Israel’s storming of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla set off a diplomatic furor, drawing criticism from friends and foes alike and straining ties with regional ally Turkey, which called off planned joint military exercises.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators block Whitehall as they protest in front of Downing Street in London May 31, 2010. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The United Nations Security Council called an emergency session for later Monday following the killing of 10 of the mostly international activists aboard a six-ship convoy that tried to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

U.S. President Barack Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he deeply regretted the loss of life and urged him to collect all the facts about the incident as soon as possible, the White House said.

Obama, in a phone call to Netanyahu, also said he understood the prime minister’s decision to cancel their White House talks set for Tuesday to return home from Canada, and they agreed to reschedule a meeting “at the first opportunity.”

“The president expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today’s incident, and concern for the wounded,” the White House said. “The president also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible.”

Netanyahu told reporters in Canada: “Regrettably, in this exchange, at least 10 people died. We regret this loss of life.”

Turkey, Israel’s strongest Muslim friend in the region, summoned Israel’s ambassador and said it would recall its own.

“This action, totally contrary to the principles of international law, is inhumane state terrorism. Nobody should think we will keep quiet in the face of this,” Erdogan told reporters from Chile, where he was cutting short an official visit to Latin America to deal with the crisis.

Israeli commandos intercepted the flotilla carrying 700 people and 10,000 tonnes of supplies for Gaza before dawn on Monday. Officials said they were met with knives when they boarded the ships, including a ferry flying the Turkish flag.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described the killings as a massacre, and the United Nations and European Union both demanded an inquiry. Rights group Amnesty International said Israeli forces appeared to have used excessive force.

Turkey, which had urged Israel to allow the ships safe passage, canceled planned joint military exercises with Israel.

“Israel will have to endure the consequences of this behavior,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Television images from Ankara, whose ties with Israel had already soured somewhat since last year following Turkish criticism of Israel, showed dozens of people gathered outside Israeli Ambassador Gabby Levy’s residence in Turkey’s capital.

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the violence could not be justified. “I am profoundly shocked by the tragic consequences of the Israeli military operation against the Peace Flotilla for Gaza,” he said in a statement.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place. I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.”


Iran, one of Israel’s biggest foes, said the killings were “inhuman” and would help lead to the Jewish state’s demise, and some 200 Iranians staged a demonstration near the United Nations building in Tehran to protest against the storming.

“All these acts indicate the end of the heinous and fake regime and will bring it closer to the end of its existence,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told state broadcaster IRIB. Iran is under international pressure over its nuclear program.

In the Arab world, the incident was viewed as an overreaction to an attempt to challenge Israel’s Gaza blockade that could put the brakes on any further efforts at normalization and may derail the peace process.

“Israel’s attack indicates Israel is not ready for peace. Israel attacked the liberty fleet because it feels it is above the law,” Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said.

“There is no benefit in dealing with Israel in this manner and we must re-assess our dealing with Israel,” he said.

The Arab League, which has endorsed indirect peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel that started last month, called for an emergency meeting for Tuesday to discuss the violence although analysts did not expect strong steps.

“For the Arab world, any hope of a peace process with this government is going to evaporate. If they are going to react to this simple issue of humanitarian supply this way, the message is very clear,” said Mustafa Alani of the Gulf Research Center.

Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel, summoned the Israeli ambassador. The Israeli Academic Center in Cairo, which aims to build bridges with Egyptians, canceled this week’s upcoming lectures.

In Cairo, where the League is based, the violence also inflamed public opinion on the streets.

“What do you expect from a state that even America fears and cannot stop or do anything to except use empty diplomatic words?” said Mohamed Morsi, a 45-year-old restaurant owner.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara, Marwa Awad and Alex Dziadosz in Cairo, Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran, James Mackenzie in Paris, Yara Bayoumy in Beirut, Tamara Walid in Dubai and Khaled Oweis in Damascus; Writing by Cynthia Johnston and Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Diana Abdallah