Synopsis of Events
After a few days of delay, the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara and 5 other ships left Cyprus on Sunday May 30th, 2010 with humanitarian supplies en route to Gaza. Because of the ongoing naval blockade by Israel on the Gaza strip, the Israeli government made clear that the ships would not be allowed into Gaza but were welcome to land at Ashdod and transfer their supplies to Gaza via the land crossings.
At some point last night, the naval buffer zone, normally at 40 miles off the coast, was extended to 62 miles. This extension was widely unrecognized by the international community.
The Israeli Navy made contact with the flotilla around 4 A.M. local time on Monday May 31, 2010 and issued a verbal warning to change course for the Israeli port of Ashdod. The warnings, as expected, went unheeded.
The Navy then boarded 5 of the boats to inspect them for weapons. This occurred in international waters, at least 70 miles off the Israeli coast. It is unclear if at this point the Navy also took control of the ships to steer them away from the Gaza strip.
The Navy boarded the Mavi Marmara at 5 A.M. by having commandos rappell onto the ship from helicopters. The ship had roughly 700 passengers from 40 countries, and was reported to have been carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid.
What happens next is disputed.
The IDF claims they attempted to apprehended two activists holding pistols. As the IDF soldiers were emptying the pistols, the activists are purported to have regained the pistols and opened fire. Jonathan Peled, minister-counselor at the Israeli embassy in Washington said the soldiers came aboard carrying paintball pistols, but were attacked with knives and metal bars. One naval commando was stabbed, prompting the soldiers to open up with live fire. IDF footage also shows captured knives and pepper spray or mace.
The Free Gaza Movement, a group sponsoring the flotilla, claims that the IDF entered the ship and opened fire on the passengers on the ship, all of whom were civilians.
Footage shows the use of force by both IDF soldiers and activists. In the aftermath of the violence, at least 10 activists are killed (most of them Turkish), and 7 Israeli commandos wounded. In this video, the soldiers appear to engage with a weapon at 1:03. The IDF press office does not highlight this in the video, so I have done so below using a red circle.
The weapon appears to be a paintball gun like the one pictured below:
No currently released footage shows the point at which the IDF used lethal force against the activists. Nor does any footage show the very beginning of the raid. When this video begins, the rappel line has already been lowered.
Israeli reporters on board the vessel have been prohibited from reporting by the IDF military censor, so this footage is unlikely to emerge soon, if ever.
The ship is currently in port at Ashdod, and its passengers will be either voluntarily deported or arrested. The IDF soldiers are being asked to identify those who responded violently to them, and those passengers will be put on trial in Israel. At least 32 passengers have been taken to a prison in Beer Sheva. 16 have refused to identify themselves. 25 activists have agreed to voluntary deportation.
Turkey recalled its envoy to Israel and summoned the Israeli envoy to Turkey. Turkey warns the raid could affect bilateral relations.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague cautioned Israel to exercise restraint. He deplored the loss of life and called for an easing of the Gaza siege.
Greece has withdrawn from a joint military exercise with Israel.
Iran has said the raid will lead to the country's demise.
Egypt summoned the Israeli ambassador.
France, Ireland, Greece, and Sweden have summoned their Israeli ambassadors.
The Arab League has called the raid a "crime." The Arab league will convene to discuss the issue at Syria's request.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas called it a "massacre."
Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, in a statement, "strongly condemned" what he called an "assault" by the Israeli military on the flotilla.
Protests occured in Istanbul, Ankara, London, Lahore, Tripoli, Paris, Athens, Thessoloniki, Refugee camps in Lebanon, Beirut, Amman, Tehran, Sarajevo, Geneva, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Washington D.C., and New York.
The United States' deputy press secretary Bill Burton said, "The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy." Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu has cancelled his trip to the US this week, and departed Canada this morning to return to Israel.
The UN Security Council is holding an emergency session in which it called for an investigation, and urged Israel to lift the siege on Gaza.
Additionally, Israeli lawyers Avigdor Feldman, Yiftah Cohen, Itamar Mann and Omer Shatz have petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice, alleging that the Israeli government violated the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.