Ashton, EP leaders condemn Gaza aid flotilla deaths
By Chiade O’Shea | Tuesday 01 June 2010
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, called Israel’s Foreign Minister Avidgor Liebermann, on 31 May, to condemn the Israeli Navy storming of an aid ship flotilla bound for Gaza, in which at least ten people were killed. Member states’ ambassadors to the European Union also held an emergency meeting to discuss the possible ramifications after the attack.
Although the European Commission and Parliament strongly condemned the incident, the nature of the impact on EU-Israeli relations was still unclear as the first details of the attack and its casualties emerged slowly. Media reports put the death toll between ten and 20. Although their nationalities have not been confirmed, the majority is thought to be Turkish.
Israel has been inundated with requests from various countries to verify the welfare of their nationals among the 700 passengers on board the six ships, including Greece, which has been unable to confirm the well-being of 30 of its citizens. Details have been sketchy as the Israeli military censor ordered a block on all information regarding those injured or killed during the overnight raid. Turkish television footage released in the morning showed a commando-style storming of one ship and passengers rushing to assist the injured.
Israel has, however, insisted that its forces only opened fire after provocation. But the humanitarian groups involved in the mission, including the Free Gaza Movement, vehemently denied that those on the ship were armed.
Ashton demanded a “full and immediate inquiry” into the incident by the Israeli authorities and added that the “EU strongly condemns any acts of violence and any excessive use of force”. She expressed her sympathy for the victims and their families and called for an end to the “counterproductive” blockade of Gaza.
The European Commission confirmed that member states’ ambassadors to the EU were holding an emergency meeting to discuss the situation, but did not hint at any possible ramifications. “It’s best we allow the diplomatic channels to do their work,” said Commission spokesman John Clancy. “We will be learning and gathering further information throughout the day,” he added.
The political groups and president of the European Parliament (which sent a delegation to Israel and Gaza last week), also strongly condemned the incident. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the Party of European Socialists, called it “an outrageous breach of the most basic international standards” and noted that it took place in international waters.
Martin Schulz, head of the Socialists and Democrats parliamentary group, said: “The use of lethal force against civilians on these ships is unacceptable”. He added that “Israel has crossed a line in the military action shown on our television screens today”. Group Vice-President Véronique de Keyser, who is responsible for humanitarian policy, and who returned with a delegation from Gaza on 28 May, added: “It is a human tragedy for the passengers and their families, these citizens who were bringing humanitarian aid, and it is also a tragedy for the Palestinian people, who did not receive their aid, and for Israel, which has lost sense of what it is doing”. She added: “There are only victims in this situation“. The Chairman of the EPP group, Joseph Daul, asked: “What is the explanation for such an excessive use of force? Was there a life-threatening resistance to justify the use of live ammunition?”. He gave his backing to Ashton’s call for an inquiry.
The President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, said “this is an unjustified attack, which has claimed at least a dozen lives” and “a clear and unacceptable breach of international law, especially the fourth Geneva Convention”. He called on Ashton “to take steps within the Quartet to force Israel to lift the siege on the people of Gaza immediately and unconditionally”.
The six ships were carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid, including building materials, school supplies and medicines. They left Cyprus on 30 May and had hoped to reach Gaza the following day. n