A U.S. citizen who lived in Turkey is among the nine people killed when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship heading for the Gaza Strip, officials said today. The victim was identified as Furkan Dogan, 19, a Turkish-American. A forensic report said he was shot at close range, with four bullets in his head and one in his chest, according to the Anatolian news agency.
Dogan was a high school student studying social sciences in the town of Kayseri in central Turkey. He was born in the United States and moved to Turkey at the age of 2. He will be buried in his hometown tomorrow.
Dogan's body was returned to Turkey today along with eight others, all Turkish nationals, who were on board the Mavi Maramara.
The ship was sponsored by a Turkish charity, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) and was carrying aid to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade. The charity released the names of all nine dead. All are male and the ages range from 32 to 61.
The Mavi Marmara formed part of a flotilla that was organized by the Free Gaza movement and intended to break the three-year Israeli blockade on the embattled Palestinian enclave.
Israeli commandos rappelled onto the decks of the six ships Monday, but on the Mavi Marmara the passengers battled the soldiers with metal rods, wrested weapons from soldiers and, according to the Israeli military, fired on them. Nine people died and more than 30 were wounded, including several Israeli troops.
The activists on board the ship told a very different version of events from the one released by the Israeli military.
A Canadian on board, Farooq Burney, described watching an elderly man bleed to death. The head of a Turkish charity that organized the aid flotilla said an Indonesian doctor was shot in the stomach and a photographer was shot in the forehead.
"They [Israeli commandos] were trying to land on the boat. So obviously there was this hand-to-hand combat and during that process the people on the boat were basically able to disarm some of the soldiers because they did have guns with them," Burney told Reuters. "So they basically took the guns away from them and took the cartridges out and threw them away."
Asked if anyone had used the guns against the Israeli commandos, Burney said, "No, not at all."
"Yes, we took their guns. It would be self defence even if we fired their guns," Bulent Yildirim, chairman of the IHH, said.
"We told our friends on board we will die, become martyrs, but never let us be shown... as the ones who used guns," he said, adding that people shouted that the weapons should not be used.
"By this decision, our friends accepted death, and we threw all the guns we took from them into the sea," Yildirim said.
Thousands of mourners flocked to the funeral held for the Turkish activists today in Istanbul. Coffins of most of those killed, draped in Turkish and Palestinian flags, were brought to Istanbul's Fatih Mosque for the service before the bodies were taken to their home towns for burial.
"Turkey will never forget such an attack on its ships and its people in international waters. Turkey's ties with Israel will never be the same again," Turkish President Abdullah Gul told a news conference.
"Israel made one of the greatest mistakes in its history. It will see in time what a huge mistake it made," he said.
Equally harsh words are being used by the Israelis.
The alliance is dead, a senior official in Jerusalem said Tuesday night, according to Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot. "The Turks are right about one thing: Irreversible harm has been caused to the relations. In the situation that has been created, Turkey will no longer be a strategic ally of Israel."
Israel and Turkey face many challenges in which both have strong mutual interests, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Andy David said.
"Hopefully, we'll overcome the shadows that we see today," he told ABC News.
Israel's Next Test: the Rachel Corrie Due in the Area Friday
Meanwhile, Israel is preparing for a new ship to run the blockade, the Irish ship MV Rachel Corrie, due to arrive in the area Friday.
"The Rachel Corrie will not be allowed into Gaza," David said. "We are watching it and waiting to see what will happen. Hopefully, the people on board will direct to the port in Ashdod. "The naval blockade is still in effect and the ship will not be allowed to enter into the naval blockade area."
Former U.N. assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, who is on board the Rachel Corrie, told ABC News that they do not intend to stop their mission or head to the Israeli port of Ashdod instead.
"It's a totally unacceptable embargo. There's no justification for it, there's no legality for it, it's not endorsed by the U.N., it's not endorsed by anybody else. It's an Israeli military zone which is without legal status," he said in a phone interview from the ship today.
The Rachel Corrie expects to be boarded by the Israelis Friday when they are approximately 80 miles off coast.
"When they tell they are about to board we will cooperate because it's too dangerous not to do so, particularly as you say it may be at night which is the usual tactic. We're not fools, we're not about to throw away our lives."
"We're very upbeat and having seen the appalling consequences of Monday we're more determined than ever to try and make this work," Halliday said.
Israel REJECTS International Prove Of Deadly Raid; Obama Administration Says It Urged Restraint
Israel on Thursday rejected calls from the United Nations and others for an international investigation of its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla but left the door open to foreign involvement.
Also on Thursday, the U.S. State Department said that Obama administration officials had warned Israel to use caution and restraint when dealing with the activists as their ships were heading toward Gaza.
"We communicated with Israel through multiple channels many times regarding the flotilla," P.J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement to the Washington Post. "We emphasized caution and restraint given the anticipated presence of civilians, including American citizens."
Israel says the commandos used force, killing nine people, only after activists attacked them with knives, crowbars and clubs, as well as two pistols grabbed from raiders. Activists who had set sail for Gaza with tons of aid, hoping to break Israel's 3-year-old blockade of Gaza, say Israeli commandos fired first.
Officials have insisted Israel's military already is investigating the raid and the country is capable of conducting a credible review.
"It is our standard practice after military operations, especially operations in which there have been fatalities, to conduct a prompt, professional, transparent and objective investigation in accordance with the highest international standards," government spokesman Mark Regev said.
Another official in the prime minister's office said there would be no separate international investigation. He spoke on condition of anonymity pending an official decision.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, however, proposed attaching international observers to an internal Israeli probe.
He told the Ynet news website that he has proposed setting up a commission of inquiry, headed by a respected former Israeli Supreme Court judge. "If they'll ask to include foreign observers, we'll include them," Lieberman said.
A junior Cabinet member, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, went even further, saying, "an international commission of inquiry must be established because we have nothing to hide.
"We must quell world criticism," Ynet quoted Ben-Eliezer as telling fellow Labor Party ministers.
An inner Cabinet of ministers with security responsibilities must convene to discuss the matter.
Israel has refused to cooperate with previous international probes, most recently the U.N. investigation into Israel's 2009 war in the Gaza Strip that concluded that both the Israelis and Hamas militants, who control Gaza, committed war crimes.
Israel says the commission that ordered the probe has a record of anti-Israel conduct, and has rejected the investigation as fundamentally flawed.
The international outrage over the deaths on board the flotilla's lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, has sparked a wave of protests across the diplomatic world and condemnations by a sheaf of countries. South Africa became the latest country to recall its ambassador to Israel, although it stressed it has no intention of expelling the Israeli ambassador or cutting diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
The raid has also provoked multiple demands for an international probe, and on Wednesday, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon indicated he was headed in that direction.
In a strongly worded statement, the Arab League called the raid "state piracy and terrorism" and said it threatened regional stability and security. Arab foreign ministers also urged the U.N. Security Council to force Israel to lift the blockade
Earlier this week, the 15-nation U.N Security Council called for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards" but stopped short of calling for an independent international investigation.
The U.S., as a member of the council, supported that statement. Washington's special Mideast envoy, who is in the region to mediate another round of indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians, said the raid "underscores the need to make progress in negotiations to lead to a two-state solution."
"The tragedy of last week can not be allowed to spiral out of control and undermine the limited but real progress that has been made," envoy George Mitchell said Thursday at an investment conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
The activists on the flotilla want to end Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed after the militant Hamas group violently seized power in the territory three years ago. Israel says the blockade is meant to keep weapons out of Gaza and to put pressure on its Hamas rulers to moderate. But weapons and other goods continue to reach Gaza through underground tunnels with Egypt and Gazans blame Israel, not Hamas, for their hardship.
The activists already have another small Gaza-bound ship in the Mediterranean, which expects to arrive in the region early next week, and say they are organizing a new flotilla of at least three aid ships to try to breach the blockade in early fall.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday labeled the criticism "hypocrisy" as he rejected calls to lift the blockade, insisting the ban prevents missile attacks on Israel.
"This was not the 'Love Boat,'" Netanyahu said in an address to the nation. "It was a hate boat."
New Israeli Tack Needed on Gaza, U.S. Officials Say
The Obama administration considers Israel’s blockade of Gaza to be untenable and plans to press for another approach to ensure Israel’s security while allowing more supplies into the impoverished Palestinian area, senior American officials said Wednesday.
The officials say that Israel’s deadly attack on a flotilla trying to break the siege and the resulting international condemnation create a new opportunity to push for increased engagement with the Palestinian Authority and a less harsh policy toward Gaza.
“There is no question that we need a new approach to Gaza,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policy shift is still in the early stages. He was reflecting a broadly held view in the upper reaches of the administration.
Israel would insist that any approach take into account three factors: Israel’s security; the need to prevent any benefit to Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza; and the four-year-old captivity of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas, Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit.
Since the botched raid that killed nine activists on Monday, the Israeli government has said that the blockade was necessary to protect Israel against the infiltration into Gaza of weapons and fighters sponsored by Iran.
If there were no blockade in place, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Israeli television on Wednesday evening, it would mean an Iranian port in Gaza. He added, “Israel will continue to maintain its right to defend itself.”
But the American officials said they believed that even Mr. Netanyahu understood that a new approach was needed.
Yet Mr. Netanyahu has resisted American pressure in the past. The Obama administration initially demanded a complete freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but had to accept a 10-month partial freeze. Pressure on Israel also carries domestic political risks for Mr. Obama, given the passion of its supporters in the United States.
Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza five years ago and built the makings of an international border. But after Hamas, which rejects Israel’s existence, won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, Israel cut back on the amount of goods permitted into Gaza. When Sergeant Shalit was seized in a raid in June of that year, commerce was further reduced.
A year later, Hamas drove the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority entirely out of Gaza in four days of street battles, leading Israel to cut off all shipments in and out except basic food, humanitarian aid and urgent medical supplies.
Hamas declines to recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence or accept previous accords signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The diplomatic group known as the Quartet, made up of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, has said that until Hamas meets those requirements, the Quartet will not deal with it.
But the world powers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the blockade, saying that it has created far too much suffering in Gaza and serves as a symbol not only of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but of how the West is seen in relation to the Palestinians.
“Gaza has become the symbol in the Arab world of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and we have to change that,” the senior American official said. “We need to remove the impulse for the flotillas. The Israelis also realize this is not sustainable.”
At a meeting of the Quartet a year ago in Italy, for example, the group asserted that the current situation was not sustainable and called for the unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian aid within Gaza, as well as the reopening of crossing points.
But Obama administration officials made it clear that the deaths had given a new urgency to changing the policy.
Pressure against the blockade continued to grow on Wednesday: Turkey, which withdrew its ambassador to Israel after the raid, said full restoration of diplomatic ties was contingent on an end to the blockade.
The new British prime minister, David Cameron, also called for an end to the blockade, criticizing the raid as “completely unacceptable.”
In Israel, officials say there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza because the Defense Ministry makes sure that enough food and medicine reach the population. But international aid groups assert that real malnutrition is growing to about 10 percent and that problems with medical and sanitation supplies are rising perilously because of the Israeli and Egyptian embargoes.
In recent months, Israel has permitted increased — although still quite limited — movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza. One Israeli official said that under Mr. Netanyahu there had been a 20 percent increase in goods, including some limited building materials under third-party supervision so that Hamas would not get hold of them.
But Israel remains adamant, saying that if cement and steel were allowed to pass in any serious amount, they would end up in Hamas missiles and other weapons that would be aimed at Israel.
Discussion in Israel this week has largely focused on the details of the seizure of the ship where the deaths occurred rather than on the broader question of whether the blockade is good policy.
Amos Gilad, a senior defense official, said in an interview that in Gaza, “we only have bad solutions, worse solutions and worst solutions.” He added: “Hamas is a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction. We, on the contrary, are facilitating them to bring in all kinds of food, materials; they are even exporting strawberries and flowers.”
Aluf Benn, a senior editor and columnist for the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote on Wednesday that the time had come for a new Gaza policy.
“The attempt to control Gaza from outside, via its residents’ diet and shopping lists, casts a heavy moral stain on Israel and increases its international isolation,” he wrote. “Every Israeli should be ashamed of the list of goods prepared by the Defense Ministry, which allows cinnamon and plastic buckets into Gaza, but not houseplants and coriander. It’s time to find more important things for our officers and bureaucrats to do than update lists.”
He suggested sealing the Israel-Gaza border and informing the international community that Israel was no longer responsible for Gaza in any way, forcing Gaza to turn to Egypt as its corridor to the outside world.
Egypt has consistently rejected such an idea in the past, asserting that Gaza is Israel’s responsibility because it has occupied it since 1967.
One of the primary rationales for the blockade offered by Israeli officials is the need to create a material and political gap between the West Bank, run by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, and Gaza, run by Hamas. And political surveys have shown a preference for Fatah and discontent with Hamas among Palestinians. But the latest events, the American officials say, have given Hamas a dangerous lift.
Three articles at once, sorry, but I figured better one long post than a bunch of short ones.